BreakPoint: Overdoses Hit Close to Home

What to Do?

An opioid epidemic is ravaging communities across America. What can we Christians do about it?

A recent edition of the New Yorker contained one of the saddest collection of stories I’ve ever read. The article described in detail the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on one small city—actually more like a large town—in West Virginia.

This article literally hit close to home for me. Martinsburg, West Virginia is less than half an hour away from where I grew up, and I still have family members who live in the area.

Margaret Talbot’s article begins with a harrowing tale about two parents who overdosed while watching their daughter’s softball game. While paramedics administered Narcan, “a drug that reverses heroin overdoses,” other parents were livid that their kids had to witness what had just happened.

Their anger may be justified, but as Talbot makes clear, it’s the kind of event more and more kids are witnessing in Martinsburg and in similar towns across America. While the opioid epidemic is usually associated with white, often rural, communities like Martinsburg, it’s also beginning to spread to African-American communities in places like Cleveland as well.

In Martinsburg alone, between mid-January and early April, “emergency medical personnel responded to a hundred and forty-five overdoses, eighteen of which were fatal.” And if anything, “this underestimates the scale of the epidemic, because many overdoses do not prompt 911 calls.”

Numbers like these partially explain why two-thirds—yes, you heard that right—two-thirds!, of the county’s emergency medication budget is spent on Narcan. What it doesn’t explain is why so many people have turned to opiates such as heroin for comfort and solace in the first place.

There’s a terrible hopelessness settling over a large part of America. It isn’t only seen in drug abuse. At the same time the New Yorker told the story of Martinsburg, the Washington Post ran a story about a family in rural southeastern Missouri where four generations are or have been on disability.

So what’s a Christian to think and do about all of this? The first answer is pray. There’s a joke I’ve heard, borrowing from a famous quip by Churchill, that “Christians can be counted on to pray, after they’ve exhausted all other possibilities.”

We can’t do that here. We need to pray for wisdom and guidance, not only for ourselves but for our leaders. What’s going on requires right policies but ultimately it transcends policies and even good ideas.

We need to pray for compassion. It’s tempting to point to people’s bad choices, in part, because there are plenty of bad choices to point to. If we go that route, we may be mimicking Jesus’ disciples whom, upon seeing a man who was blind from birth, asked, who sinned: him or his parents? The multi-generational brokenness described in both the New Yorker and the Washington Post articles is the backdrop for this opioid epidemic.

We should recall Jesus’ reply: “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” We’re called to do the works of God in the midst of a hurting world. This, not assigning blame, is what restoration looks like.

Finally, we should pray for a spirit of gratitude and generosity. We should never forget that we are the beneficiaries of grace. For the Christian, there’s no such thing as a “self-made” man or woman. As the King James Version of 1 Chronicles 29 famously reads, “For all things come from Thee, and from Thine own have we given Thee.”

And pray that God will mobilize us, His people, to follow the examples of Christians throughout history who, finding themselves in times and places of significant crisis, social brokenness, and suffering, ran into the mess—not away from it.

May we not be like the priest and Levite who walked around the beaten, bloody man on the road. May instead we be like the Samaritan, willing to get our hands dirty to help the multitudes of half-dead people left on the side of the road across this country. And please, forward this commentary to your friends so that they can be in prayer, too.


Overdoses Hit Close to Home: What to Do?

John encourages believers to be engaged in helping the many victims of opioid addiction. We do this through prayer, of course, but also through our actions. Let’s be those who run toward the brokenness and suffering, not away from it. For more information on this devastating problem, check out the links below.



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The Recovery-Minded Church: Loving and Ministering to People with Addiction
  • Jonathan Benz, Kristina Robb-Dover | IVP Books | January 2016
The Addicts Next Door
  • Margaret Talbot | The New Yorker | June 5 & 12, 2017
Generations, disabled
  • Terrence McCoy | Washington Post | June 2, 2017
A brief commendation
  • Matthew Anderson | | June 12, 2017

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Phoenix1977

    No, you need to stop praying and start acting. You need to examine why so many people are using opioids. And, if you discover it’s because they feel miserable, you need to investigate why they feel miserable and do something about it. The last thing these people need is others praying for them.
    In May I attended a medical convention in Las Vegas and one of the lectures I attended was about the opioid epidemic. According to the presenter almost half of the people who develop a problem with opioids were treated with Oxycodon in the two years prior to developing an opioid dependency. When examining the patient charts it’s obvious about 2/3 of those patients is treated too long with Oxycodon. The responsible physicians state they didn’t dare to end the prescriptions because the patients threatened with laws suits for malpractice if the prescribing physicians ended the prescriptions. So, interestingly enough, the fear of a malpractice law suit caused the doctors to malpractice.
    So yes, there is a problem. But it’s a problem prayer will definately not solve. Perhaps ending the culture of sueing everyone for everything would be a better idea.

    • Robert Cremer

      You solution is to stop praying and start acting. But then you don’t follow your own advice.
      What action do you propose to stop the culture of people bring fallacious law suits?
      Perhaps we should pray for Doctors and the medical community to get the courage to act in the way that is best for patients by stopping the prescribing of Oxycodon, and similar drugs? Why? Because those drugs are to unpredictable when it comes to the question of dependency.

      • Phoenix1977

        Actually, Oxycodon is very predictable. As long as you use it what it is for, to treat pain, addicting is unheard of.
        The problem is, once the worst pain has past, and other pain killers like Ibuprofen and paracetamol can do the trick, you should stop taking Oxycodon. Better yet, doctors should stop prescribing it. However, continuing on Oxycodon is easy (only 1-2 pills a day instead of 4 times 2 paracetamol a day) and it’s simply stronger, removing the pain entirely. But as a result you don’t know when you are healed and the Oxycodon is now no longer relieving your pain but floading your brain with the same endorphines that stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, causing addiction.
        The fear of malpractice suits are holding American doctors hostage. At the convention two doctors enacted a common scene in a doctor’s office in the US:
        “Doctor, I need more Oxycodon. I;m all out”
        “Sorry, but you are using Oxycodon for quite some time now after your accident. It’s time we start you on other pain meds”
        “But I’m still in pain!”
        “But the Oxycodon can get you hooked so ..”
        And that scene ends in a patient with another prescription for Oxycodon.
        The scene would end quite differently in the office of a Dutch doctor, with the patient being thrown out of the hospital by security for threatening the doctors, without any prescription and a letter / phonecall to his family doctor explaining what happened and the request to add a potential drug addiction to his charts. Although it would never come that far because far earlier a Dutch doctor would have limited the use of Oxycodon already, having the patient on less severe painkillers. Because the goal of painkillers is not to eliminate pain completely but to reduce to acceptable levels.

        So prayer is still not needed. More restrictive laws concerning malpractice are, making it more difficult to hold doctors hostage to get a fix.

        • Robert Cremer

          Oxycodon may be predictable, but the users who get addicted to it are not. You are making my case to make it illegal.
          How will changing the medical mal-practice law suit system make the patients become more responsible in how they responsibly manage their pain?

          • Phoenix1977

            Because doctors will be able to make decisions again without having to worry to get sued. Because a guilty verdict, believe it or not, is not the worst problem. Doctors have Insurance for that. But their legal expenses (lawyers, expert witnesses, etc.) are not covered by that Insurance so the doctors have to pay for that themselves. Not to mention the time and effort doctors have to put into their defense which is time they cannot spend on either patient care or optimizing their knowledge levels. And there is the stress of such a law suit, with all the risks associated with that. To avoid all that it’s easier to simply give demanding patients what they want. Similar arguments can be made for other medication as well, like antibiotics and ADHD medication.
            Patients don’t have to be predictable. However, doctors should be and not in the way they give in to every demand a patient makes. Despite the way people act nowadays treatment (and therefor prescriptions) cannot be forced to be given and doctors should tell patients they will not cooperate with things they deem not in the patients best interests. Research among doctors in the US has identified the threat of a malpractice suit to be the main reason why doctors are afraid to deny patients their wishes so it would be in the best interest of patients to limit the possibilities of malpractice claims in order to improve the quality of medical care.

  • jason taylor

    Praying and acting are not incompatible.