5 Things You Probably Don't Know About the Opioid Crisis
America's opioid crisis is real and severe. You may know someone who is addicted, or you may have attended their funeral. (I have been to two funerals in the past two years in which the deceased was a victim of a heroin overdose. I know of several others who have lost family members in just the past three years due to this plague.) Christians can't ignore this crisis.
I was unaware of this crisis until about six years ago. Even then, I did not personally know victims until the last two years. The seriousness of the situation prompted me to reach out to a local drug treatment facility and to do some research on my own (yes, I'm sorry I'm late to this awareness, but better late than never).
Here are the things I did not know about the crisis and the success of drug rehabilitation:
1. It truly is an epidemic.
We are truly facing an epidemic, and in some places, it is worse than you think. Here are a few well-researched articles giving the facts and stats about the rapid increase in opioids (both prescription and illegal) over the past 15 years, as well as the increase in deaths by opioid overdose (more than 115 people die of an opioid overdose every day).
As I was talking to one drug rehab administrator, they told me that so many people are dropping dead from an opioid overdose, or simply becoming disabled, that we now have a new term in our vocabulary: "drug orphan." Foster care (especially here in my home state of Ohio) is overwhelmed with the number of children being put into the system because their parents have killed themselves with their drug addiction!
This plague is also an economic and national security issue. There are businesses that cannot fill their demands for reliable mechanics, technicians, and truck drivers because so many cannot pass a drug test. How can a society continue to function if a significant portion is forever stoned or overdosing?
2. It affects everyone.
The opioid crisis spans every demographic. When I walked into a drug rehab clinic over a year ago I was shocked to see people my age and older (I am 56)! I grew up in an era in which teens and young adults smoked pot or drank alcohol, but took heroin? No one I knew did that.
Now, however, people of every age group are into heroin, meth, and cocaine. It hits people of every race, every economic and social background. I know of a fellow pastor whose son tragically died of an overdose just recently. I know of people who are middle class, upper-middle class, and very well off who are either personally struggling with addiction, or whose family members are addicts.
3. Christians can and MUST get involved.
What can we Christians do? While there are many good treatment facilities across the land (and some are very expensive to attend), there are also faith-based operations that work hard, provide excellent treatment, and take in those who cannot afford much (if anything at all).
I volunteer at one such treatment facility, New Destiny Treatment Center in Clinton, Ohio. Our church has donated supplies and will continue to do so. I am blessed to go once a month and preach to the guys there (there are about 60 men who live there while undergoing their nine-month program). New Destiny also has an additional 150-175 outpatients (of whom 75 percent are women) who come just for the day for drug and alcohol treatment.
I would bet that there is probably a very fine Christian treatment facility near wherever you live. Here is a list of such centers nationwide.
4. There is hope.
We may be turning a corner. Iowa and Ohio are seeing their first ray of hope in this war. The number of drug-related deaths due to overdose fell by 35 percent in Iowa last year! That is an astounding number. And some hard-hit counties in Ohio are seeing similar drops.
Some of this can be attributed to the number of police officers and emergency medical technicians that are equipped with naloxone (also known as Narcan or Evzio) that, when administered, revives the addict from his or her overdose. Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy are now selling these antidotes over the counter without a prescription (but the cost is still about $130-$140 for two doses).
In my interview with Cris Prillaman, public relations director for New Destiny, I learned that this Christ-centered facility is pleased to announce that 60 percent of patients who have completed their 9-month program are still "clean" five years later. That means that they have not had so much as a beer, even five years later. The outpatient program has a 94 percent compliance rate. That means that outpatients are attending all scheduled mental health appointments, taking relapse prevention courses, and passing all drug screenings. Something positive is happening here, and lives are being rescued and transformed.
Who pays for all this? In the case of New Destiny, Medicaid pays for counseling, mental health treatment, and medical appointments. However, the facility does not receive any money from any government for housing the men. New Destiny must find the money to pay for utilities, food, and clothing. That's where concerned, generous individuals and congregations come in to help fund this operation.
If you are interested in helping out, please call Cris Prillaman at New Destiny; she'd love to hear from you. I am willing to bet there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other worthy treatment facilities around the country who would love your help.
5. It's a blessing to help.
Lastly, your life will be changed by helping. The other night I went to New Destiny to preach. The guys were wonderful and welcomed me with open arms. We laughed and joked and shared prayer requests. I wish you could see and hear these men ask for prayer for their family and friends. They are wounded, many of them realize they made some very bad choices, but they are getting help, thank God. Then, we sang.
Man, you should hear these guys call out their favorite hymns: "Are You Washed in the Blood?", "Victory in Jesus," "What a Day That Will Be," and "Trust and Obey."
It was like an old-fashioned revival. When we got to the chorus for "Are You Washed in the Blood?" one side of the aisle shouted good and loud a line, and the other side repeated it so loud it shook the rafters. I told them they sang so well that they needed to take it on the road!
Almost every man there listened as I preached. (That night I just went through the whole story of Ruth in about 30 minutes, explaining the sovereign grace of God in that wonderful story of redemption.) After the service was over, plenty of the guys just hung around talking to me. They all thanked me. God the Holy Spirit was definitely there.
I went there to bless them. But you know how it goes; you go somewhere to bless others and it always turns around the other way ... they blessed me with their smiles, laughter, singing, praying, and the look of hope in their eyes.
If you want that kind of blessing, go find a facility somewhere and help them. Think of the lives that will be redeemed and transformed because you cared and stepped up.