One of the many issues currently plaguing our society is the sheer amount of "news" that we are force fed on a daily basis. Traditional news, 24 hour news, internet news, Facebook news . . . in the midst of so much information, and so much disinformation, it can be difficult to identify what really matters and what we need to take stock of. And when everything is labeled "a crisis" we grow numb to the calls for attention and help. Today I will add my voice to the clamor, but I hope with good reason . . . because the "Opioid Crisis," as it is now called, is a legitimate crisis. And if you are a disciple of Christ it is something you need to consider.
Lee County friends, what percentage increase do you think there has been in opioid overdoses here since 2013?
Nope. Try 800%! Here is the Fort Myers Newspress story that broke these numbers: Opioid Epidemic.
Now that's just overdoses (from 171 in 2013 to 955 in 2017). I don't have numbers for overall usage, but it can't be pretty. All the opioid numbers are up, and some of these new drugs, like fentanyl, are unbelievably powerful and dangerous. (Fentanyl, according to the Newspress article, is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine!)
The point of sharing this information is not simply to engage in hand-wringing. The point is, if we are people committed to serving our community or loving our neighbors we need to be aware of what we're going to be running into. And frankly, we can't even see the full social cost yet of this epidemic. It will be over the next years as more families disintegrate, as more children are put into the state's care, and as more jails and rehab centers overflow that we will appreciate the damage that is being done. The safety-net system was simply not built to handle this sort of strain, and I know SWFL does not have even close to enough NGO's who focus on addiction and its social effects to deal with this issue.
Obviously, I don't have a solution to this problem. But I would like to propose a few things for churches or ministries to consider...
1. Talk about the opioid crisis, and prepare our people.
Again, if we're committed to loving our city we need to inform our people of what's going on in our city. That way, when our people discover opioid addiction closer to home than they anticipated they can avoid freaking out and be part of a solution. A basic knowledge of the situation helps remove the fear and stigma which would prevent any help being being offered, and at the same time that knowledge also provides a healthy respect for how serious the problem is. It would be fantastic if the people in our churches and ministries could encounter people in the crisis with the peace and courage that comes from preparation, and that they could be ready to offer suggestions for treatment and support for those who are ready to take that step... and support options for the families that are left to pick up the pieces left by a family member's addiction.
2. Prepare our ministries to respond.
What will we do when we find the opioid crisis in our church or ministry community? We need to prepare for this eventuality now. That means gathering people who will be willing to support addicts as they confront their addiction, people who will support families of addicts, and marshaling our resources to fill in the gaps for those who are left vulnerable due to the addiction of others.
3. Lead with mercy and strength.
We are not called to stigmatize, to shame or to drive away addicts. We are called to recognize that Jesus gave his life for them, and to treat them with dignity and respect as human beings who are loved by God. At the same time we must understand the nature of opioid addiction, and be strong in our insistence that they face it. If 89% of people who go through rehab relapse (see here) then we can be reasonably sure that casual solutions and going cold turkey alone are not going to cut it. We cannot help someone addicted to opioids if we do not create boundaries. We are to help these neighbors find the help they need, but if they won't take those steps then we must not enable them with casual assistance. We must make it clear we care about them and want to help them, but only if that means helping them break free from addiction.