Gov. Kasich asks faith leaders for help battling Ohio’s drug epidemic

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Governor John Kasich said the battle to stem the growing drug epidemic in Ohio cannot be won by money alone. Friday morning and into the afternoon, he worked to enlist faith-based leaders to step into the fight.

“As we do our work at the state level we need a very strong partnership at the local level,” Kasich told the group of 30 or more faith leaders from across the state.

For hours the group made up of many religious faiths, met behind closed doors at Vineyard Church in Westerville, hashing out ideas about how their communities can help.

“There is so much bad news around the opiate crisis, and we know Ohio is ground-zero in the United States. We saw more opiate deaths in 2015 than any place in America and we know when the stats come in 2016 it is going to be even worse,” said Senior Pastor Rich Nathan with Vineyard Columbus. “What we experienced today is a little bit of good news.”

“The actions we are taking will bring fruit into the future, but it is critical that the faith community and other organizations locally also do their part,” said Governor Kasich.

Faith leaders said they will talk about the dangers of drugs more often in their sermons.  Churches agreed to adopt a single school giving students and educators any help needed. And Churches will bring another religious institution along to grow the circle.

“This is simple to a very complicated problem,” Kasich told the group.

Jewish and Muslim leaders were also in attendance.

“Opiates do not discriminate according to religion, they kill everybody,” said Abdi Omar, a Muslim leader from the Somali community. “Anything that affects the community at large affects the Somali community,” he said. “The key is education.”

Pastor Randy Baker was also one of the leaders at the meeting.

“There was some good feedback here today. One thing we all have in common here is the message of hope,” said Pastor Randy Baker.

Pastor Baker said he is a former addict.

“What we are doing in Akron is breaking the church down into teams to adopt somebody struggling in addiction,” Pastor Baker said.

Tom Thompson was not one of the faith-based leaders at the Vineyard Church meeting, but for 19 years after his addiction, he and his wife have used faith for other’s rehabilitation.

“The secret sauce of the ministry quite frankly is the relationships with each other. Ironing, sharping the iron, coming together literally learning from each other, encouraging each other correcting each other, and most importantly coming together with non-judgement. We are all in this together.” Thompson said.

The Refuge has 80 young men in some cases spending over a year, first in Vinton County in the initial rehab center, then Lancaster and lastly an apartment complex on West Sullivant Ave. and East Broad Street. In those last two facilities they live in semi-private rooms but pray, dine and mainly work together. Thompson said it is about brotherhood.

Leaders said imagine the number of those using drug and others addicted who could be positively affected if more faith-based groups pitch in to battle the drug epidemic. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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