PERRY TWP.  Eden Church of the Brethren is an integral part of a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone else. But no segment of Stark County is immune to the current drug epidemic, says the Rev. Wayne Scott, Eden's part-time interim pastor.

For this reason, the church at 4437 Richville Drive SW will explore the issue at 10:30 a.m. Sunday with guest speaker, Kyle Kershner, a licensed chemical dependency counselor and clinical supervisor with Sojourners Counseling Services in Mount Vernon.

Kershner also will address the Northern Ohio District Conference of the Church of the Brethren Saturday at the Hartville Church of the Brethren at 353 Crestmont Ave. SW. 

"It's something that's been on my heart a while," Scott said. "I've just been hearing all the police reports. It really got to me."

Scott, who works with Hospice of the Western Reserve, recounted visiting the Cuyahoga County Examiner's office to witness an autopsy.

"It was a beautiful young man who had overdosed," he said. "It just got to me. I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, he was 20-something years old in the prime of life.' Ever since then, it's just been on my heart."

Ohio is No. 1 in the nation for opioid addiction. Limited access and funds for treatment, particularly for residential facilities, have catapulted the state into crisis.

According to a recent Canton Repository report, more than 300 Stark Countians died from drug overdoses between 2012 and 2016.  

In 2014, Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione founded the Stop Heroin From Killing Committee. Its efforts include billboards and symposiums to educate the public about the lethal dangers of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanyl and other highly addictive narcotics.

"A gigundous problem"

Scott said he had been seeking someone like Kershner, who has counseled pastors and churches. Sojourner's Counseling is a private, faith based agency based in Knox County.

"I hope it will be well-received; I haven't talked to many members about it," Scott said. "I want them to start to wrestle with this to see if there are ways God might have us do something about it.

"Here we are, a small church in the country, but it's (addiction) out in the country, too. My guess is a lot of people know someone who is impacted."

Scott said the sheer scale of the problem can be intimidating to churches.

"Too often, the church feels itself to be weak and not able to make an impact," he said. "Plus, in America today, the church is getting beat up, it's not popular to be a Christian. Another reason is, it's just a gigundous problem. I'm guessing people are just overwhelmed. From a human point of view, maybe they're just scared and feel they're unable to do anything."

Kershner estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the clients he sees are struggling with some form of addiction or substance abuse. The region, he said, is "rampant" with addiction. He agrees with Scott that there probably are a number of reasons why churches and their members have been reticent to tackle the issue.

"For some of us, it hits home," he said. "It's not just people 'out there.' They're our families and friends. I think it's such a macro issue that seems so overwhelming. Pastors haven't educated themselves so it's hard to educate the congregation. I don't mean that in a harsh way."

"What do you do?"

Kershner said he'll be addressing several issues, including youth and addiction at Saturday's conference.

"I'll be talking specifically to youth pastors, and how it's affecting kids," he said. "We'll be looking at how do you have those conversations."

Scott said he hopes people will be open-minded, and hopes it will lead to partnerships with other churches and organizations.

"I've been trying to help the church discover its niche," he said. "It's a great group of folks. We can't do everything, but maybe this is one thing. At least they'll have some understanding. My hope is it will go further than this."

Part of the effort is challenging pastors to have conversations and not just programs, Kershner said.

"If someone walks into your office and says, 'I have a problem,' what do you do?" 

Rehab, Kershner added, can be extremely expensive, and insurance companies will only pay for so much, so many addicts don't go as long as they should.

"People don't understand drug addiction is a disease," Scott said. "It's not something they choose." 

For more information about Saturday's conference call 419-281-3058. There is a charge to attend. Sunday's event is free. For more information, call 330-479-8739.

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP