Bill Clinton and Johns Hopkins Highlight Role of Religious Leaders in Fighting Drug Overdose – Maryland Matters


Former President Bill Clinton (R) spoke during a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health webinar on how religious leaders can help fight rising drug overdose deaths. Screenshot.

Drug overdose deaths increased during the coronavirus pandemic, claiming the lives of 87,203 Americans over a 12-month period that ended in September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This compares to nearly 68,757 drug-related deaths during the same period a year earlier.

In Maryland alone, 2,600 drug-related deaths were reported in a 12-month period that ended in September, compared with 2,300 deaths in the state during the same period last year, according to federal data.

The surge in drug overdose deaths is a reminder that long-standing public health problems persist during a global pandemic, Ellen J. MacKenzie, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement. online seminar on the overdose crisis Tuesday with former President Bill Clinton and religious leaders.

Clinton (D) highlighted the role religious leaders can play to help resolve this public health crisis and address the stigma of substance abuse disorders that often deters people from seeking help.

Religious leaders “can help people understand that addiction is a chronic disease – not a personal moral failure – and that those suffering from the disease need full treatment and support, not shame.” and stigma. The change in mindset will be the key to overcoming this epidemic, ”Clinton said in a pre-recorded video.

Historically, there has been a lack of confidence in healthcare among black and brown communities, said Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first woman to be elected bishop in that denomination.

She said the mistrust had been fueled by cases such as that of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cancer cells were taken without permission, and Tuskegee’s experience – when the United States Public Health Department did not treat black men infected with syphilis so that they could observe them and learn more about the disease.

But the religious community can serve as a bridge between suspicious communities and science. Often, people come to see their pastor, priest or rabbi before seeing a doctor, McKenzie said.

Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, speaks with former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher and Bishop Vashti McKenzie about the role of the religious community in helping members of the community struggling with substance abuse disorders. Screenshot.

“The religious community becomes the trusted agent in which we can share information. If the community cannot trust it, then we can be the intermediaries of the trust – to be able to create platforms where healthcare professionals and scientists can step in, ”she said.

Training religious leaders in dealing with substance abuse disorders and knowing when to refer people to healthcare professionals is also essential, she said.

Doctors need to be made aware of cognitive biases, such as the belief that blacks have higher pain thresholds and therefore do not need strong prescriptions, McKenzie continued.

Former US Surgeon General Dr David Satcher agreed. He said it was also the role of scientists to teach how drug use affects different communities. Although drug addiction affects all segments of the population, there are racial disparities in legal consequences and in access to treatment.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that it relax federal guidelines to make buprenorphine, a very effective drug for opioid dependence, no longer available.

And, to reduce the stigma, it would be more helpful to ask “what happened to you” rather than “what’s wrong with you,” McKenzie said.

Inviting religious communities and law enforcement to the table would be the next step towards reducing the criminalization and politicization of the opioid crisis and other drug addiction across the country, she continued.

A drug overdose “isn’t a moral flaw, it’s not a moral failure, it’s not a family failure,” McKenzie said. “It’s a health problem, it’s a disease.”

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