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Drug abuse training for CNY clergy

Members of the clergy can many times be on the front line in the fight against drug addictions. Ministers, rabbis and priests are often the first people who become aware of an addiction problem in an individual or family.

With that knowledge, SUNY Upstate has started offering the tools local clergy may need to deal with similar situations.

Darryl Banks, an elder at the Mt. Carmel Seventh Day Adventist Church on Syracuse’s south side, says sometimes it’s easier for him to hear a story of addiction than anyone else. 

"I don’t know if it started with priests or what but there’s always the attraction that clergy have your back and your confidentiality,” Banks says.

Banks is often the first to identify an addiction problem in a member of his church.  It’s that first point of contact that makes the clergy’s role so important says Beth Hurny, the executive director of Prevention Network in Syracuse.

“What we find is that having at least one positive adult role model is huge for young people.  And sometimes that is a clergy person.  So they have a very, very critical role,” said Hurny.

But clergy have to be aware of how to deal with people struggling with those addictions.  That’s why Terry Culbertson, of the Spiritual Care program at Upstate Medical University, says an intensive training program focusing on drug abuse this month is necessary.

Culbertson says the addiction training should be viewed as a way to understand the nature of addiction and that it is a reoccurring thing that not only affects the abuser but everyone who loves them as well.

The road to recovery is not a straight line and Culbertson believes the first steps should start with members of the clergy.

"Their job is to know the resources and link people up.  I think the continual support through that time is really essential to recovery. You can’t do it on your own, we need community around us," said Culbertson.

Community is important when it comes to treating addiction according to Hurny, who encourages clergy to bring the issues out of the shadows. 

"It’s a community public health problem and it’s a community solution. They’re such an important part of the solution by the very nature of the work that they do and the connection they have with people.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.