Service targets opioids, addiction in community

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Members of the St. Isidore Catholic parish, St. John's Lutheran church and St. Peter's United Church of Christ gathered for a prayer service over the opioid crisis Wednesday evening at St. Raphael in Dubois. Along with songs and prayer, Rev. Mary Poston talked about how the crisis began and Kacie Klem of Ferdinand shared a story about how opioids have effected her family. At the end of the service, Christine Betz of Celestine, left, and Karen Eisenhut and Teresa Hopf, both of Dubois, prayed for those with opioid addiction and those affected by the crisis.


DUBOIS — When Christ the King Parish Youth Minister Kacie Klem was in college, her sister, still in school at Southridge High School, ran away from home for the first time. Her sister had gotten mixed up in Dubois County’s drug scene after being bullied in middle school. She started with marijuana as an eighth-grader and by sophomore year, got hooked on crack cocaine and was deep in the county’s drug trade.

“There are things in this area — in Dubois County — that would make your hair crawl,” Klem said.

Klem shared her family’s story of addiction with about 35 people Wednesday night at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Dubois. The group represented parishioners from three Dubois area churches — St. Isidore Parish, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. Peter’s United Church of Christ — that came together to pray for those afflicted by the opioid crisis in the community. During the hourlong service, attendees heard information about the opioid crisis, sang hymns and offered prayers for healing for the addicted and their families, especially the youth.

“They are the ones that are being born addicted,” Pastor Mary Poston of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church said. “They are the ones that are living without parents because of addiction ... and they are the ones — the older ones — that have taken some of those drugs and become addicted.”

As a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, Poston works directly with some of the children affected by the opioid epidemic. As part of her training for CASA, she heard a presentation on opioids from medical professionals and shared some of what she learned Wednesday night.

Rev. Mary Poston talked about how the crisis began at the beginning of the service.

The root of the opioid issue, Poston said, lies in the 1990s when opioids entered the medical field as nonaddictive pain relievers. Around the same time, the medical field also introduced the one to 10 pain scale doctors still use today that helped them determine if their patients needed pain relievers. It became the accepted view that any pain was unacceptable, Poston said, and doctors began prescribing the new pain relievers in mass, leading to a drug issue.

“The medical community has caught on,” Poston said. “But it was too late.” 

In addition to prescription pain killers, the opioid classification also includes illegal drugs heroin and fentanyl, which was developed as an elephant tranquilizer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids are the leading cause of drug overdose in the country. According to CDC data, opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016 — the latest year for which CDC data is available — and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than 1999.

In Indiana, the CDC reported a 23 percent increase in opioid deaths from 2015 to 2016. The Indiana State Department of Health compiled a report on the opioid epidemic for 2017. According to the report, Dubois County had five emergency room visits for opioid overdoses from 2011 to 2015, with surrounding counties showing two to six times as many visits. Over the same period, the study showed Dubois County had one opioid-related overdose death, with surrounding counties again having two to six times as many. Over the same period, Dubois County reported 40 new cases of Hepatitis C, an infection associated with opioid use.   

At Wednesday’s prayer service, Poston and Klem both pointed out that addiction is a medical problem, not a matter of willpower. A chemical change occurs in an addict’s brain that makes it difficult for them to quit using without outside help.

Andy and Crystal Merkley of Dubois held hands while listening to Kacie Klem of Ferdinand share a story about how opioids effected her family.

In addition to praying for those affected by addiction, the attendees also prayed for the strength to reach out to people they know who are struggling.

“Let us all have the courage to reach out to them and invite them to come to our lord, Jesus Christ,” St. Isidore Youth Minister Cameron Riecker said in his closing comments.

Riecker organized the event at the request of St. Isidore’s pastor, Father Eugene Schmitt. The two men saw the widespread addiction in the area and wanted to reach out.

As youth minister, Riecker said, he sees teenagers in the beginning stages of addiction. Like older addicts, the teens are looking for comfort and peace, but they don’t know where to find it. Often, they turn to alcohol.

According to data collected through the Indiana Youth Survey that is administered annually to students in all four county school districts, 33 percent of county seniors and 27 percent of juniors reported using alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey. The county also reported rates of use above the state average for heroin and cocaine among eighth-graders, alcohol and binge drinking among juniors and seniors and electronic vapor products (e-cigarettes) among sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“This is a very real, very dark, very dangerous path that a lot of people are traveling down,” Riecker said. “Please pray for them.” 

More on