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Community Wake-Up Call

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Heroin and opiate abuse is no respecter of persons or limited to the inner city. Many smaller suburban communities and rural areas battle a new rising wave of illegal drug usage that cuts across all age and socio-economic lines. Whiting Assembly of God (WAG), in Manchester Township, New Jersey, recently drew attention to this growing local issue by sponsoring a public forum at the church attracting more than 100 residents.

Pastor David Charlesworth realized that the township faced a serious drug problem, especially related to prescription drugs. In fact, several people who attend the church have revealed reliance upon pain medications for themselves or family members. In addition, a woman was arrested in the church parking lot during the summer for possession of drugs. Her dealer skipped out before the police arrived. At the pastor's request, deacon Richard Curtis approached the Manchester Police Department about the possibility of a public outreach at the church to inform citizens of the problem.

Founded originally in a funeral home in 1999, WAG's 100-plus congregation consists of mostly retired people, mirroring the nearby New Jersey shore communities.

In 2012, Manchester Township ranked 44th out of 565 communities in the state in terms of the most heroin and opiate abuse, according to the Division of Addiction Services, New Jersey Department of Human Services.

The heroin threat has increased steadily nationwide since 2007, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Heroin is available in larger quantities, used by more people, and is causing a growing number of deaths. A total of 8,620 Americans died from heroin-related overdoses in 2013, almost triple the number in 2010. The New York/New Jersey metropolitan area along with several other regions in the northeast faces the greatest threat from heroin.

Many controlled prescription drug (CPD) abusers switch to heroin because of its availability and much cheaper price than popular prescription opiates such as OxyContin. For example, the current street price for a typical glassine bag of heroin in New Jersey is $5. But just one renegade reformulated OxyContin pill, called "blues", goes for $25. Many CPD abusers begin their downward addiction spiral by overmedication from legitimate pain-reducing opiates.  

The WAG Friday-evening event, organized by Charlesworth, Curtis, and the Men's Fellowship, featured a well-received keynote talk by Sgt. James Komsa of the Manchester Township Police narcotics enforcement team. He described warning signs of drug abuse, treatment options, and ways of reporting drug activity. Local paramedics spoke about the prescription spray Narcan that revives people from overdoses. Several recovery programs sent representatives, including New Jersey Teen Challenge.

Teen Challenge residents testified about their deliverance from addiction through the power of Christ. They also provided details on the ministry's faith-based residential program in Lebanon, New Jersey, and staffed a busy informational table in the church lobby. On Sunday, Teen Challenge residents returned with their choir for WAG's worship service.

The scheduled one-hour presentation stretched into two hours of serious questions from the audience, with half of the members from outside the church.

"People were receptive to the entire program," Curtis says. "It was the first time the local police did anything like this and we believe that it was God's plan to bring us together."

The church is already discussing plans for another community outreach, as local citizens voice a hunger for more information. Several are even interested in inviting their grandchildren.

"We want to keep informing people," Charlesworth stresses. "Our goal is to win souls in this chaotic world and show we have a solution to addiction that can be depended on -- the Lord Jesus Christ."


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