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More than 150 people learned how to administer a naloxone kit, like this one, at workshops last year. Photo: The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

Churches respond to fentanyl crisis

Three United churches have learned how to administer naloxone, the drug overdose antidote.

By Lois Ross

When the national fentanyl crisis began making headlines in the Ottawa media more than a year ago, Rev. Hilary Merritt was moved to find a compassionate and practical response.

Last year, she organized events at City View, Orleans and Kitchissippi United churches, and by November more than 150 people had learned how to administer naloxone, the drug overdose antidote that is credited with saving lives across Canada. The clergy, health-care workers, teachers, teens, parents and grandparents who attended all went home with greater knowledge of the crisis and a free naloxone kit.

“There is nobody who does not know somebody who is affected by the opioid crisis, whether they realize it or not,” says Merritt, the Ottawa Presbytery minister for youth and young adults (YAYA). “People stereotype drug addicts as homeless or living in shelters — but these are kids and adults from everywhere. This crisis knows no boundaries.”

Across Canada, the opioid crisis is growing. There were 2,861 opioid-related deaths in 2016, with the unofficial count in 2017 nearing 4,000. In the capital, nearly 400 people were admitted to Ottawa Hospital for emergency opioid overdoses in 2017, and several safe injection sites were opened last summer.

Prior to hosting the naloxone demonstration, Merritt attended a training workshop led by Ottawa pharmacist Mark Barnes and organized primarily for Anglican clergy. Afterwards, Merritt and her YAYA committee decided to offer similar workshops within Ottawa Presbytery, which represents 58 congregations.

“The United Church is a socially conscious denomination that wants to express our faith by responding to the real needs around us,” says Merritt, “so the question is always, ‘How can we respond?’”

The three workshops Merritt organized have created “a ripple effect,” she says, with participants sharing their knowledge and organizing more workshops.

“There are few issues that touch such a wide demographic. People come out shocked when they hear the extent of the problem.”

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