“We see it every day. They come to us. And they are especially quick to come to us if there are children,” said Aaron Murphy, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries and the emergency services the ministry provides to people in five Northeast Tennessee counties.
The problem is compounded by the scope of opioid addiction particular to this region.
While not every state tracks the data, Murphy said the reports he has seen put the incidence of opioid addiction in the area among the highest in the country and Sullivan County as the national leader.
“We serve Sullivan County. That’s who we are there for,” he said.
To address addiction on the front end, Good Samaritan pays a stipend salary to a licensed certified counselor who meets with addicted clients at the ministry three days each week. “Her schedule is full and she is in demand every day she is here,” Murphy said.
Because the need for addiction counseling is greater than the ministry can meet, Good Samaritan reaches out to area churches and other professional counselors for assistance.
“We would like to have a couple more licensed certified counselors to volunteer with us. But we get most of our support from churches. And we partner with churches in this,” Murphy said.
“We partner with these churches to counsel with people with addictions. We partner with churches to get volunteers to rock babies who are addicted and cry and cry and will not stop. And we partner with them in a baby food distribution to get baby food to these babies.”
Beyond addiction and the need for counseling to address it, when a person with an addiction has children, incarceration, loss of employment and loss of custody often places the many responsibilities of child rearing on their older family members.
Grandparents and great-grandparents who have passed their prime earning years — some who struggle to meet their own needs on Social Security incomes — take on those responsibilities to prevent a child from being placed in state custody.
And because state laws mandating parental child support do little good when an addicted parent is unable to maintain employment, the emergency need for food, clothing, school supplies, rent and utility assistance, medical bills and other needs met by nonprofit service agencies multiplies with to the area’s addiction rates.
“Our clients come in every day, especially children with parents who are addicted to prescription drugs. To serve those children, we have to serve their parents,” Murphy said.
He believes the key to addressing widespread opioid addiction lies in community partnerships like those employed by Good Samaritan. And as a minister, he foresees “a great revival” of churches.
“Where a lot of people see someone on the street and say ‘Oh, that person is a pill head,’ we see a person who needs love,” Murphy said.
“I don’t believe clinics are the answer because they are putting them off one pill and putting them on another.
“The pastors we work with understand what we are up against and they are willing to work together. That’s important to bring about change. This is a community problem. And I think it will be the church that takes this demon by the horns.”