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What Christians can do in response to the opioid crisis

The evening song service began. A deacon approached me and whispered that he had put “a drunk man” (let’s call him Tom) in my office.

I walked to my office to find an inebriated person I had never met. Tom was homeless and told me that he needed help. My response was that I would be willing to help him.

Tom left the building before the worship service ended, but early the next morning, the church offices’ doorbell rang. Tom returned well-groomed and sober asking for the promised help. Through the guidance of another minister in Nashville, I drove Tom to a hospital that quickly admitted him for detoxification from alcohol abuse.

Related: ‘The leprosy in my neighborhood is addiction’

I was around 30 years old and knew little about addiction. It was several days before I was invited to visit Tom in the detoxification facility. Over time Tom completed his detox, studied the Bible with me and was baptized. He started attending worship services, where he often sat alone.

I am embarrassed to write that I never had him in my home.

Tom soon disappeared, and I lost all contact with him.

What you can do to help a person struggling with addiction

About 20 years after meeting Tom, I enrolled in Vanderbilt University Graduate School of Nursing. I earned a Master of Science degree in nursing and then became board certified as an adult nurse practitioner. I am in my fourth year of treating people with opioid addiction.

The following steps represent some of what I have learned that might assist you to help someone else.

  • Avoid stigmatizing those who struggle with addiction. All of us have issues in our lives (Rom. 3:23). Members of the church are not immune from opioid addiction.
  • Identify resources near you to help people addicted to substances. You never know when someone you encounter in the church or the community may need your guidance.
  • Encourage and help the church to address the opioid crisis. People need information about community resources. Identify ways the local church can help people recover from addiction.
  • Endeavor to set a consistent helpful example to others. Carefully follow directions for how you are to use prescribed medications and how medication should be secured safely and disposed of properly. Never take or use medications that are not specifically prescribed to you or share medications that are prescribed to you with others.
  • Know that illicit drugs may not be what they are represented to be by distributors. Illicit opioids are killing more than 107,000 people per year.
  • Do not underestimate the potency of illicit substances that are sold on the street. What looks like a prescription pill may only contain fentanyl and none of the medicine a person thinks they are purchasing. Fentanyl is mixed into substances like heroin, meth, cocaine, benzodiazepines and marijuana. It only takes 2 milligrams of fentanyl to kill a person, especially those naive to the drug.
  • Have important conversations with families and the church’s young people. People who feel invincible can easily overestimate their ability to tolerate substances. What is supposed to be a party can quickly become a medical crisis that could end in death.
  • Stay aware of regional slang for substances that people might use. Regional slang for fentanyl includes China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, He-Man, Tango and Cash, Goodfellas, Poison, China Town or Great Bear. Knowing terminology can aid you in knowing when to intervene.
  • Moderate and monitor the use of social media by children or youth for whom you are responsible. Become aware of software that will protect children and young people from those who are not concerned with how the substances they sell affect or end lives.
  • Acquaint yourself with the helplines that are available if a crisis arises or may be able to be prevented.

I know God is a forgiving God, yet 34 years later I still feel saddened that I did not do more to help Tom, the man that sought my assistance with his addiction.

Frequently in my clinical work, patients report that a relative or friend has been exposed to fentanyl or overdosed and died. Addressing the growing opioid crisis is one way to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

GARY DODD, a member of the Concord Road Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn., works as a nurse practitioner at Cedar Recovery, a medical practice seeking to solve the opioid crisis and repair communities.

Filed under: addiction counseling Drug abuse help with addiction Opinion opioid crisis Substance abuse Top Stories Views

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