Study reveals key role of faith-based organisations in treating substance use

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Religious groups have long played a role in reaching out to those in need, and according to a new study from the University of Kansas (KU) and Georgetown University, their place alongside the most vulnerable shows no signs of diminishing.

The study discovered that not only did organisations and facilities with a faith-based aspect generally provide a wider range of services to people affected by substance use than others, but they were also often located in diverse communities that were frequently underrepresented and under-resourced, such as communities of colour.

This potentially meant that they were filling gaps in the services provided by non-religious and government services.

"We found faith-based services were more prevalent in more urban areas, and they were also more likely to provide a variety of services within the continuum of care," Ms Parker said.

"Especially in communities of colour where seeking mental health and substance use help is stigmatized. Faith-based services are often preferred sources of support for many in those communities."

Growing out of a larger project initiated by the University of Kansas to examine the availability of substance use and misuse services across the Kansas City metro area in the battle against opioid addiction, the team produced a report examining the role of facilities with a religious affiliation or orientation.

"The strong presence of the faith community in the substance use and recovery collective inspired this strategy of exploring the role of faith-based organizations within this system of care," said Amittia Parker, formerly of KU but now with Georgetown University, and lead author of the publication.

"We wanted to understand this topic deeper and contribute to the literature by systematically considering the value faith can add in a person's journey".

The study was co-written with Nancy Jo Kepple, associate professor of social welfare at KU, with the findings published in the Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work.

The motivation behind the report was not that of promoting one type of service over another but helping to ensure that people from all backgrounds were able to access the services they needed.

Researchers undertook a comprehensive survey of services and facilities across a region encompassing 10 counties and two states, asking facilities to describe the extent that faith or religiousness influenced the work they did, as well as documenting how spirituality was expressed throughout their organisations.

Among the facilities that identified as faith-based, the majority had a Judeo-Christian foundation.