Aug. 30-31 overdose observance will urge churches to do more than use naloxone

“Many of those we lost during the pandemic never had a ceremony.”

A harm reduction exhibit at the 2019 UCC General Synod collects prayers for people who use drugs.

Now they will have one, thanks to the United Church of Christ and a coalition of religious and secular organizations concerned about drugs.

“They” are the more than 93,000 people who died of overdose in 2020. The coalition will honor them Monday, Aug. 30, in a “Service of Remembrance and Resistance” from 6 to 8 p.m EDT. People can attend in person at College Park Baptist Church, Greensboro, N.C., or online, live, via the Facebook page of the North Carolina Survivors Union.

It will be the first of two evenings marking International Overdose Awareness Day, which is Aug. 31. The Tuesday program — also both online and in person — will focus on how to create a society with better prevention, care, treatment and drug laws. Both are sponsored by organizations that take a “harm reduction” approach to their work on drugs.

Naloxone as a start

“People who use drugs are beloved by God,” say buttons nestled into a shipment of naloxone from the UCC’s Overdose and Drug Use Ministries to churches in Ohio.

“Beyond Naloxone” is the theme of the observances. But Erica Poellot, who directs the UCC’s Overdose and Drug Use Ministries, doesn’t want churches to get the wrong impression. She said knowing how to use that overdose-reversal drug remains an important start.

“I support the ‘Beyond Naloxone’ messaging 100 percent,” Poellot said. “But I often say, ‘Beyond Naloxone and Naloxone.’ Naloxone access is a critical issue right now. There is a dire shortage across the country.

“We are working to build a 50-state network of churches who can be naloxone distribution sites as a safety net and for advocacy purposes.”

What else churches can do

Poellot’s ministry and a partner organization, Faith in Harm Reduction, are also promoting a “Spirit of Harm Reduction” toolkit designed especially for churches. Getting ready to counteract overdoses is just a small part of what it urges churches to do.

Its “ways to get involved” section, for example, has tips on how to support people who use drugs by offering hospitality, community, compassionate care and advocacy. And it has extensive spiritual and worship resources.

Poellot said she is planning a UCC consultation this fall “on overdose, drug-related stigma, substance use and harm reduction.” She encourages people to email her at to get information about that and other opportunities. “They can invite us to do a presentation or host a conversation or clergy breakfast,” she said. “There are so many ways to get involved.”

Names, music, paper lanterns

Poellot recommended the International Overdose Awareness Day activities as one of those ways to get involved.

The Aug. 30 service will include a “remembrance and name calling ceremony, creating of memorials, music and more, ending with a releasing of paper lanterns,” organizers said. They called the Aug. 31 program “a mobilization event” with music, food and giveaways. Speakers will address methadone reform, overdose prevention sites, and drug decriminalization and legalization and more.

An flier describes the Aug. 30-31 observances.

Sponsors include:

“The harm reduction movement is fundamentally about human rights, and nothing less,” the organizers said in a news release about the activities. “As such, this event will be intersectional in nature, embodying the principles of restorative and racial justice, and demanding a new vision for overdose awareness while bringing healing to our community through forward action.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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