Roanoke church dives deep into opioid crisis, ready for action

Melrose Baptist Church used Dopesick narrative to shape discussion

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – While most churches do Bible study, one Roanoke County church community is studying another kind of book. Melrose Baptist Church dove head first into "Dopesick," the critically acclaimed nonfiction work covering opioid addition in Appalachia, and after a month of study, they feel more empowered than ever to help.

At Melrose Baptist Church Wednesday, there was no holding back. Niles Comer was the speaker of the night, and as a recovering addict, he shared what it's really like to live life with addiction.

"When you leave here tonight if you're not a little bit disturbed and a little bit hopeful then I haven't done my job because it's a disturbing topic but there is hope in that people do find recovery," Comer said.

Experiences like that one are what Melrose Baptist Church said have made a difference. Once a week for the last month the group of about 100 people has met to listen, share and reflect on our world today.

Rev. Brenda Rowe, associate pastor, has championed the discussions, dealing with addiction in her own family.

"We need to talk about this with our community because these are good people that have just gotten really messed up and that doesn't make them bad," Rowe said.

She was called to action after reading the book and seeing the connections to her own life and community. "Dopesick" author Beth Macy was the guest speaker the first night. Each week after the speaker the group broke into smaller groups to talk and share ideas. Through four weeks of meeting together, Rowe said it has made a difference.

"We just found out yesterday that one of the young men that came here to the first session has gone into detox and is going into a long term recovery program through Hope Initiative," Rowe said.

And for them, one person accepting that it's their time to get clean is the start of a bigger movement. Comer said people in the Roanoke Valley have some of the best chances of getting clean because of the support system available to them, like the Hope Initiative and Collective Response which bring resources under one roof.

"Roanoke is cutting edge, the valley with the collective response and law enforcement, the hospitals and various organizations all coming together, it's amazing, it's one of the reasons I moved back was to be a part of this," Comer said.

Adding one more person to the ring of support, something these folks hope can continue to grow.


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