Most Americans are taking some kind of drug daily, ones that improve the quality of or even save our lives, so the issue is not drugs per se but what kind of drugs? Are we addicted and has chemistry become a substitute for spirituality in our lives?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #40 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
Opioid abuse is now a national epidemic, more lethal than the worst diseases.
“Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant and that work in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain with many of these drugs. Opioids can be prescription medications often referred to as painkillers, or they can be so-called street drugs, such as heroin.”
America is now the most medicated country in the world, and we apparently possess an insatiable appetite for opioid medications, legal prescriptions or illegal synthetics on the street. For example, one in four American women are taking some form of psychiatric medication, chemical treatment for depression, anxiety, ADHD or other mental disorder. One in six in the general population.
These drugs “don’t just relieve pain and worry, they produce psychic euphoria, a sense that the rest of the world has slipped away, especially when abused—perpetuating the potential for addiction.”
So, drugs become a way to cope, to manage the stresses of life, some of which are unavoidable—just life in the real world—but many stresses and anxieties are rooted in how Americans choose to live their lives: our overdrive toward financial success, overwork, insufficient rest, lack of a sense of community found in family or church, little perspective on why we do what we do, perspective traditionally found in religious worship now increasingly tossed aside.
In other words, we create our perceived need for artificial chemical support.
We damage the body, which Scripture calls a temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17), we lose control and subject ourselves to influences like the seven deadly sins, we place our health and spiritual wellbeing at risk (Col. 3:17), and much more even unto death.
These deaths of course include junkies as portrayed on TV crime shows, down and out people who’ve lived on the dark side for years. But these deaths also include your neighbors in brightly painted suburbs, people behind the white picket fences who live what might be called “respectable” lives.
“Many people who take opiates find that they need the drug just to feel normal, rather than to relieve pain. Tolerance does not necessarily mean that addiction will occur, but it makes addiction more likely.”
The opioid fentanyl poses an exceptionally high overdose risk due to having an extremely unpredictable fatal dosage when mixed with other drugs.
“Starting around 2013, fentanyl disrupted the North American market for illegal drugs, capitalizing on pre-existing demand for opiates such as heroin and prescription pharmaceuticals. In 2016, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were the most common cause of overdose deaths in the United States at more than 20,000, about half of all opioid-related deaths.”
“Compared to heroin, it is more potent, has higher profit margins, and, because it is compact, has simpler logistics. It can be cut into, or even replace entirely, the supply of heroin and other opiates...As of 2018, fentanyl was the most commonly listed opioid in overdose drug deaths, surpassing heroin.”
“More adults between 18 and 45 died of fentanyl overdoses in 2020 than any other leading cause of death, including COVID-19, motor vehicle accidents, cancer and suicide. Fentanyl also killed more Americans in general in 2020 than car accidents, gun violence, breast cancer and suicide, according to the analysis of CDC data from Families Against Fentanyl. Fentanyl deaths doubled from 32,754 fatalities to 64,178 fatalities in two years between April 2019 and April 2021.”
“Opioid dependence in America doesn’t discriminate; it just infects. Transcending geography, class and religion, it’s ravaging a generation, claiming lives by way of both addiction and death.”
But with all this, when was the last time you heard a sermon, or even a reference in the pulpit, to opioids? If your answer is, I can’t remember, then that’s evidence of part of the challenge from a Christian point of view. Some churches are doing good work on this, but much of the Body of Christ is not as active as we could be. Overwhelmed perhaps by so many problems, dealing with people willingly putting drugs into their bodies, especially prescription medicines, may not seem as urgent.
But the Church needs to share “Thus saith the Lord” in terms of where individuals look for peace and solace, emotional reinforcement, even relief from physical pain.
By the way, I’m not suggesting individuals who take pain medications are doing something wrong. Far from it. I understand that legitimate treatment for a host of physical or emotional afflictions can be enormously important and helpful. And I believe God enabled humanity to learn from and develop remedies from his created order, medications we can use to bless people’s lives.
But the statistics clearly indicate that many people are doing more than this.
They’re attempting to drown their troubles with various opioids, rather than seeking respite in the Spirit of God. Instead of seeking first the kingdom of God, they hope for better living through chemistry. This includes drug addicts for sure, but it may also include millions using drugs like opioids to deaden their sense of agitation, loss, defeat, despair, gut-wrenching sorrow, or absence of hope. It’s substance abuse just like alcoholism, though this abuse uses pills.
We’re told that what addicts need most are meaningful relationships with people who are there and who care. This, the Church can provide, but it will take understanding, commitment, time, and money. The Church can support individuals struggling with opioid dependency by helping them identify the root of the problem. What caused the need? For Christians this means looking honestly at the heart.
If we are prolife, as I believe Christians should be, then we must be prolife holistically or comprehensively, meaning in every way. We are indeed responsible to help those who cannot help themselves.
So, I recommend pastors delve into this issue. Pastors don’t have to become a doctor or psychologist, just a shepherd applying a Christian worldview and biblical teaching to a real-world contemporary issue.
And I recommend the rest of us work to learn more about the current opioid crisis in America, that we discover how our church might reinforce both prevention and recovery, and that we try to discern what part we might play in aiding those who need our assistance.
Physician Matthew Loftus wrote in his Christianity Today article, “if addiction is even remotely an issue of misplaced affection, then for Christians, the gospel is the only suitable starting point. ‘All people—addicts in particular—are called to start with the gospel that satisfies our hunger, trusting in God’s love for us and repenting of our sin.’”
“Many people recover without trusting in Christ, yes, but those who are grasped by the gospel have a significant head start in sorting out the ‘hierarchy of loves’ as they untangle the particular ways in which sin has created strongholds in their lives.”
In 1 Thess. 5:14, the Apostle Paul reminded us, “we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
The opioid crisis is a national emergency. The question remains how the Church will meet the challenge.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2022
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