Opioid abuse gets congressional, Christian responses

by Daniel Woodman, posted Friday, July 22, 2016 (2 years ago)

NASHVILLE (BP) -- In the wake of an opioid abuse prevention measure passed by Congress, Christians are finding new ways to combat the crisis alongside the new bill.

Gary Robbins, pastor of East Williamson Baptist in West Virginia, described opioid abuse as a widespread problem that needs to be addressed.

"Just about everywhere I have been it has been a problem. It has hit everywhere," Robbins said.

Opioids are medications that relieve pain by reducing the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain. One medication classified as an opioid is morphine, which is commonly synthesized and used to make heroin, one of the most addictive drugs available, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed by the Senate July 13 and by the House a week earlier, will increase funding for abuse programs and make medicine that fights addiction more readily available.

The act will "address the destructive side of opioid use" and provide doctors and patients with more resources, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"There is something in this law for every kind of opioid user," Duke said. "The person in pain will have more resources brought to bear to ensure the responsible and appropriate use of these drugs to deal with their legitimate needs.

"Others who use these drugs to mask the effects of emotional, psychological or spiritual pain will find more resources available to help them deal with their real needs," Duke said.

Opioid abusers also will face more obstacles when trying to obtain drugs, he noted, saying the law "will serve us all well."

"Millions of people have been helped by the pain-relieving capacity of opioids," Duke said. "Yet, for many of those millions, one form of pain has been replaced by the pain and destruction of addiction. Opioid addiction is real and deadly.... [P]eople struggling with addiction to a drug that at one time was a great help will soon have more assistance in reclaiming their lives."

Locally, providing food and transportation are two avenues Gary Robbins uses to minister and counsel opioid abusers in his town.

"We go in with counseling, we try to encourage them, and we try to show them what type of effect it is having on their children and on society. We try to give them the whole nine yards," the pastor said.

The West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists adopted a resolution in 2015 urging "every faithful Christian" to "bear a definite responsibility to achieve a successful solution" to the problem of drug abuse. Messengers pledged "total abstention" from alcohol and illegal drugs and promised never to abuse prescription medication.

Building off the resolution, Robbins believes the true answer to the opioid crisis lies within the power of the Gospel.

"Our only hope is a changed heart. God is going to have to do that. We just trust in the Lord. One of the things our churches are going to have to get over is condemning those people and treating them like they can't be reached. We don't have to agree with it, but we got to love them."

Opioid abuse also is a major concern in New Hampshire, according to Rich Chegg, the state director of missions. The state ranks as the second worst when it comes to providing abuse treatment for those who need it, according to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have seen a huge increase in the number of heroin addicts in our small city of Manchester," Chegg said. "The sad reality is that while just driving to the grocery store, you will typically see a few heroin addicts on the street. The number of people panhandling has drastically increased.

"We are also foster parents and the opioid crisis has overwhelmed the foster care system weekly," Chegg said. "[W]e get calls or emails about children needing homes because of this crisis."

There is a need for the church to get involved, Chegg said, and its role is crucial.

"The church should support foster and adoptive work within their communities. Right now the system is so overwhelmed.... For those struggling with addiction, the church can help provide resources and support faith-based drug rehab programs. Commit to pray for those struggling with addiction. And be a listening ear to the family who is hurting. After performing a funeral for a young man who died of a heroin overdose, it is vital for the family to be surrounded by a loving church that will provide support and love," Chegg said.

The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 1997 that stated "because of our desire to provide good examples for those whom we love, particularly our young people, we promise total abstention from all alcoholic beverages and all illegal drugs, and furthermore we promise to never abuse medications prescribed by doctors or sold over the counter."

Messengers also pledged "active involvement in the effort to rid our country of drug abuse" and to "to enhance public awareness of the problem and its consequences and encourage our Christian leaders and the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention to minister to those harmed by drug abuse."

Daniel Woodman is Baptist Press' summer intern and a rising junior at the University of Missouri.
Download Story