CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Addiction is a disease that continues to plague our country and it has been amplified due to the pandemic. Local people of faith have been coming together to find ways to respond to the ongoing addiction crisis.

“It’s a disease that people don’t like to talk about,” said Symposium Coordinator Celeste Labbe. But in silence addiction destroys lives, families, and communities. And the issue has only worsened since COVID led to increased isolation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of June 2020, 13% of Americans began using or increased substance use to cope with pandemic-related stress.

To address the issue, the Diocese of Springfield teamed up with Elms College in hosting an addiction symposium at the college on Saturday. Bishop William Byrne told 22News, “We must look at it as medical health, not as a judgment, not as a character flaw, so that’s the first important step; is to realize we have to be a judgment-free zone.”

Several keynote speakers, including State Senator John Velis and addiction experts, addressed the crowd, offering advice on how best to offer support for those battling addiction.

Among those speakers was Symposium Coordinator Celeste Labbe. She’s felt the tragic effects of losing a family member to an overdose.

“You know, it hit our family really hard. So I’m really pleased to start a conversation,” expressed Labbe, “I think there is a lot of shame and guilt with this disease. It’s okay to talk about it, it’s okay to seek help, it’s okay to admit that you need help.”

One of the key takeaways of this symposium? Addiction does not discriminate.