The Opioid Epidemic: A Christian’s Responsibility

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“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.” —Gal. 6:10

Addiction can take a stronghold in anyone’s life and cause significant pain and struggle. It affects the lives of individuals we love and care about. While opioids have long been used to treat pain, the drugs also have a highly addictive nature. After opioids are ingested, the drug travels through the bloodstream and attaches to opioid receptors in brain cells. The brain cells subdue the perception of pain and increase feelings of pleasure. Opioid medications are beneficial and powerful tools for pain management, especially with severe pain due to injuries and surgeries. However, along with compelling advantages come several adverse effects. Our responsibility as Christians is to recognize the potency of these medications and implement programs to combat addiction. We also need to have open, honest discussions about addiction with our loved ones for education and rehabilitation purposes. Although some support programs are in place in the churches, we are called to reach out to the communities and develop initiatives that are available to everyone.

The United States is in an opioid crisis. During the past 30 years, patients’ reported levels of pain have been stagnant. However, the prescribing of opioid medications has skyrocketed. The levels of opioid use in the United States are significantly higher than in other countries. This is partly due to better access to medical treatment, but also because the United States has expanded the use of opioids for noncancer related pain (journals.lww.com.) This is shown through the filling of Hydrocodone (an opioid) prescriptions. According to doctors Hassan Mir and Brent Morris, the United States uses an estimated 27.4 million grams of hydrocodone annually compared with 3,237 grams for Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy combined.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 130 people die from opioid overdose every day” (cdc.gov).

As stewards of creation, we are called to care for all it, including the people. This includes individuals who are afflicted by opioid abuse. This issue is far more prevalent than many realize. According to the CDC, in 2017 alone, opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths, which accounted for 67.8% of all drug overdose deaths that year. Additionally, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports, “Although 5.1 percent of prescription pain reliever misusers also used heroin in the past year, 62.6 percent of heroin users also misused pain relievers in the past year.” As we see these trends in opioid dependence and overdose increasing, it is imperative that we step in to reverse the trend.

It is important to discuss how we as Christians can implement programs and help centers to prevent and treat addiction and dependence due to opioids. Other practical steps that can be taken include promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs, as well as providing support for new research on pain and addiction. It is also known that environment can affect behavior and attitudes toward drug abuse. We can make our communities a safe place to talk about addiction. We are called to love others unconditionally, as Christ loves us. In 1 John 4:7-8, we read, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

One way individuals can work toward the goal of reducing opioid addiction is to have honest, open conversations with friends and loved ones. These conversations must flow out of hearts of humility, love, and openness. Drug use is a serious topic, and addiction can affect the lives of any one of us, even if we do not suspect it. We see Jesus set the example for how to care for the ill and needy, and he calls us to do the same. We are to encourage others, love them, and pray for them. God has the power to heal all addiction, all pain, and all suffering. Mark 5 tells the story of the woman who reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak, and she was healed. Mark 5:34 reads, “He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’ ” Christians can continuously believe and pray that all of God’s children will one day be free from the bondage of addiction.

Christians can provide more solutions than just consoling and rehabilitation. We can work to make changes in health care and legislature that will provide our communities with a better means for controlling this epidemic. For example, by working with doctors, we can help understand opioid overprescribing and alternative therapy methods. Only seven states have a prescription monitoring system that mandates doctors to check how often the patient fills opioid prescriptions (journals.lww.com). By requiring doctors to work with an active monitoring system, dependence intervention could take place much sooner in at-risk patients. Christians and churches can work to support legislation that promotes prescription monitoring.

Additionally, Christians can contribute to providing better education. The goal is to inform people of how addictive and lethal these drugs can be and what the next steps are if dependence is formed. Although in the past two years the number of prescription overdose deaths has slightly decreased, according to drugabuse.gov, the number of deaths from synthetic opioid overdose has risen at an unbelievable rate. Along with education about addiction, we can help by creating and informing the public of prescription drop-offs for unused medications. By having drop-off boxes at places like the local police station, patients are less likely to keep opioid medications that can be shared, stolen, or abused. Another option could be to have churches working with local officials to implement secure prescription drop-offs at churches. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly 21-19% of patients who take opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Between 8% and 12% develop an opioid use disorder (drugabuse.gov). By creating prescription drop-offs, medications can properly be disposed of, decreasing the chances for misuse.

We hope this reminds us to be careful with opioids and to reach out and connect to those who use them to ensure that these people receive love and support and are managing well. As a body of believers, may we faithfully continue to pray for healing from addiction and pain. James 5:16 reads, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Finally, we can fight this crisis by supporting the programs, policies, and legislature that work to prevent and form solutions for opioid dependence and addition. As Christians, we must ensure that opioid addiction does not control our communities and those we love.

About the Authors

Kayla Groen is a student at Calvin University. She lives in Frankfort, Ill., and is a member of Parkview Christian Church.

Jacob Lyon is from Holt, Mich., and is a medical student at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. He’s a member of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church.

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