By Jano Tantongco
A group of clergy leaders have convened to form a community “deal” aimed at strengthening a commitment to eradicating the opioid epidemic by bolstering community pillars of support.
Rev. Gideon Pollach, a rector at St. John’s Church in Cold Spring Harbor, is one of the leaders of the group, which goes by the name of Long Island Covenant to End the Opioid Epidemic. He said that clergy typically get involved in cases of addiction when it’s far too late.
“We get calls late. We get calls when people have died. But, we would like to be called earlier. We’d like to be part of the solution rather than just grieving the losses that seem to be really across the island,” Pollach said.
“The ‘covenant’ is a fancy church word for ‘deal,’” Pollach said. “It’s the beginnings of a larger deal we hope between different sectors of our community to push back against this scourge of opioid addiction that has really affected the whole region.”
The covenant was scheduled to host its first meeting “Action Against Opioids” on Wednesday at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington Station.
Pollach said that the multi-faith coalition intends to gather all stakeholders, including community members, police and school district representatives, together to prompt action to provide support systems for those at risk.
“It’s not an event where we’re raising just awareness. It’s the beginning of a movement we hope where people will commit to doing what they can,” Pollach said.
Pollach described addiction as “dark and menacing,” taking on a life of its own, adding that it stems from a multitude of causes, meaning there are just as many “small solutions.”
“One of the symptoms of addiction is increasing distance and loneliness and ultimately being cut off more and more from communities of people who could perhaps help you find a way out of it,” Pollach said.
He emphasized that churches and other institutions of faith don’t only have a religious aim.
“I don’t think churches only have a spiritual goal. I think churches have a communitarian goal, a goal of building strong and resilient communities,” Pollach said. “The shared experience of community buoys people’s spirits and emotions and gives them resilience and strength to response to the everyday crises.”
A 2016 state report cited Suffolk as the state’s leading county for heroin-related overdose deaths for a period spanning 2009 to 2013.