By Josie Bingham
UNITED STATES—The opioid crisis is officially a national emergency.The United States is experiencing “a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks” according to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Drug overdose is currently the most common death for Americans under 50.
Bill Henard, West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists executive director-treasurer, encouraged the Church to tackle harder societal issues including the opioid crisis.
“When we are all in for the mission of God, we can do more together than by ourselves,” Henard said. “Imagine what God could accomplish if we worked together, committed to radical, sacrificial generosity as a way of life, and grew as a generous people in response to Christ’s generosity.
“We could tackle the growing drug epidemic in our midst,” said Henard.
An opioid is a class of drugs including illegal substances such as heroin as well as legally prescribed medications like oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Last year, opioid overdoses stole the lives of more than 59,000 Americans. And those numbers are believed to be underreported by 24 percent according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Donnie Griggs, pastor of One Harbor Church in Morehead City, North Carolina, shared how the crisis hit close to his heart. One of Donnie’s family members became addicted through prescribed medication for pain and another family member began toying with marijuana before the drug use turned to harder stuff.
“We are drowning in this as a country; everywhere I go, small towns are being eaten up with this stuff,” Griggs said. “I’m not afraid to speak against the opioid crisis from the pulpit and call out the epidemic sweeping across our community.”
One Harbor Church has become a safe place of hope in their communities for people struggling with addiction. But the reality is, the opioid addiction has expanded into a national crisis. Churches must grasp the mindset that they have been positioned throughout neighborhoods and communities, both urban and rural, to become first responders and beacons of light and hope for those struggling with opioid addictions.
As the opioid crisis deepens, so must the response of the Church.
“No longer can pastors and lay leaders in the church be unwilling to speak openly, honestly and continually about this subject,” said Ed Stetzer. “We must be willing to call out the abuse both on the prescription side and user side as dangerous and immoral. This must be done with compassion and care while speaking boldy and with truth.”
Dave Watson is a pastor in New York where opioid and heroin deaths rose faster than any other state four years ago with a record high of 825 deaths.
“We are losing a generation of young people,” Watson said. “A problem can have a solution that’s slowly implemented, but this crisis requires action now. The Church should start with a dually prophetic and compassionate approach. We must from our pulpits and programs deal frankly, honestly and continually with this issue, calling out the abuse both on the prescription side and user side. It is dangerous and immoral. But the Church can start with prevention by warning people of the dangers and help individuals to take steps not to become addicted while recovering from injuries and surgeries.
“But beyond that, we must provide recovery programs that are Christ-centered and filled with tough love and honesty.”
Watson’s church has implemented 12-step recovery groups based on Christian teaching, while others sponsor clinics to support those in withdrawal.
The opioid crisis is not just an urban or suburban crisis. It is a worldwide crisis. It takes from every one. Yet, the Church—fueled by hope in Jesus Christ—can combat the opioid crisis with prevention from the pulpit and supportive community and recovery groups for those who’ve fallen or become addicted.
“This starts with the Church’s willingness to pursue and love those ensnared by opioids,” said Stetzer. “We can make a real difference—from the pulpit, by giving the epidemic a name and working with local agencies to warn people of the danger and through education and resources where knowledge brings awareness.”
For resources and information on next steps in tackling the opioid crisis, visit The Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with other faith-based organizations in North America, to help create, speak into, and resource North America.
Josie Rabbitt Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board and Send Relief.