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Why Christians Should Care About the Opioid Epidemic

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The opioid epidemic may sound like an abstract or irrelevant topic to you. It’s something you hear on the evening news, but you never think deeply about it.

But I’ve seen the effects of drug addiction first-hand. In addition to studying counseling at Southeastern Seminary, I also serve as a registered nurse. And I have seen how opioid addiction impacts real people’s lives in devastating and destructive ways.

The Problem

“According to West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Boone, Mingo and Wyoming counties are three of six counties in the state experiencing an economic downturn similar to that of the Great Depression in the 1930s [due in part to opioid addiction].”[1]

You want easy. I want easy. I want patients who are compliant and do everything I say. I want to care for those who say thank you every time I care for them. I want my patients to change their harmful lifestyle habits as I tell them what it’s doing to their bodies.

But that’s not how it works. Those who are addicted to drugs are stuck in a shell of addiction. In a very real sense, they are in the chains of bondage and cannot see the way out. As a result, jails are overwhelmed. EMS workers are over-worked and many providers and family members are experiencing burnout.

Everyone is tired of drugs.

But I’m not tired of broken people;
for I am one, too.

Drug addiction. None of us is too far from it.

We’re talking to the parents of a child who just overdosed and we’re soon realizing — they’re not so much different than me. (from a report from WV Public radio.)

As evangelical Christians, how do we proceed? Why should we care?  Here are some reasons why…

I’m not tired of broken people; for I am one, too.

1. We Care Because Addiction Can Affect Anyone.

We should care about the opioid epidemic because all of us know someone who is struggling with addiction or will in the future: an individual, a family, a community.

For individuals affect families. Families affect communities. And communities affect our world.

We’re all affected. It isn’t us versus them.

And we shouldn’t care because we can overlook their flaws well. In fact, I’m often more frustrated than loving. But we care because beyond their addiction, beyond what seems to be a heart of stone and insincerity to care about life, there is a person who desires to be free from the bondage of drugs.

When we don’t care for those struggling with drug addiction, it may be that we are merely choosing convenience. Kerrin James Sheldon, a filmmaker who produced and worked on the Netflix documentary “Heroin(e),” says,

But that is exactly what we’re doing: choosing our convenience and our comfort over the necessary steps that need to be taken to save lives, help people find recovery and try to become a model of grit and compassion that the rest of the nation can follow.

Instead, if we refuse the life-saving drugs we so desperately need, we will continue to be a bellwether for the rest of the nation on how not to act when times get tough.

Jesus cared for people who were hard to love. He served those who didn’t always do what he told them to do. We should, too – even when people take, and take, and take – even when we don’t get anything in return.

As a nurse, just as I care for people who continue to eat twinkies when diabetes is taking their limbs,  I will unbiasedly care for an addict who relapses with the same drug that brought them into the hospital the first time.

Anyone can face addiction because we live in a fallen world. Sin is not just unique to them, the ones who use drugs. Sin is present in me. You. Your brother. Your sister. Your daughter and your son. We should care for those struggling with addiction because any of these people could be you, your brother or your sister one day.

2. We Care Because They Are Made in the Image of God

We care about the opioid epidemic because these people are made in the image of God. Genesis clearly speaks of who God created:

God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:27, emphasis added.)

This verse means that God even created the patient you can’t stand, the “user,” the ones you would call the scum of the earth.

“Just let them die,” I often hear.

Yes, man sinned. Yes, man used drugs. And, yes, as in the garden, guilt ensued. And yet the gospel persists. 

God still beckons them to be his own, “not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). A lost dead man unsaved from the coming wrath of God is hopeless, but a living man has hope. No person is beyond the reach of God’s saving hand – not even those addicted to drugs.

For some reason, we tend to assume that those who have used drugs or abuse drugs are somehow less worthy or valuable. But, thankfully, God doesn’t look at them as we do. To him, they are not “too far gone or worthless.”

How will they know their life is worth living if we never tell them?

Loving Like Jesus 

God’s love has broken chains in my life, and it has set me free from the bondages of sin that terrorizes my heart and mind. The same can be true for them.

These people have a story. It’s broken, riddled with mistakes and mishaps. Yet there is hope in a weary and bruised world. We can care for people we don’t agree with nor want to love.

Because Jesus did.

He is how we care for people who are hard to love.

He gives strength to the weary worker and the tired spouse and the fatigued caretaker.

Jesus changed my life and I have never been the same. He resurrected my life out of my own pit. How will they know their life is worth living if we never tell them?

Evangelical Christians have a voice that doesn’t quite make sense to the world; so if the people of God don’t speak up about the cost of a life, culture will mandate care of those struggling with addiction.

Too often I hear people (even healthcare workers) speaking harshly about drug addicts.

“User.”

“Not worth my time.”

“Can’t they just get out of here so we can take care of someone who really matters.”

“Ugh, they’re not worth my time.”

“Another one of them.”

I don’t know all their stories, but I know that many are lost. Shouldn’t we be the very ones to bring them hope in the midst of their own hell?

I’m humbled when I think about the people who loved me at my worst (and my worst isn’t better than theirs just because drugs aren’t involved). And I remember we don’t love and care for others because of what they do for us; we love them because Jesus first loved us.

And even when everything seems weary and things look grim, there is a hero of this story who will one day make all things new, who will restore life to the way he created it to be. And one day there won’t be drug addiction. But until that day, I will believe the promise of my Father that he is able to do abundantly more than we could ever ask for imagine—

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
And out their trust in the Lord.
(Psalm 40:3)

This is the change I hope for in the lives of those struggling with addiction.

As a healthcare worker, the Lord has so impressed this on my heart. We can’t stop caring because God never stops loving. It is etched in the grain of our being.

May we not see those addicted to drugs with a period at the end of their story. May our hearts be softened to see them as broken people who need a Savior.

I may be tired of drug addiction.

But I’m not tired of broken people;
for I am one, too.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about this topic, Hannah recommends you read ‘3 Ways to Talk About Money & Poverty in Appalachia.’

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

[1] http://wvpublic.org/post/generation-appalachians-growing-parent-addicted-drugs-way-life

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Hannah Jayne Adkins

Hannah is a student in the counseling program at Southeastern Seminary. She blogs at For the Glory of the King. In her free time, you can find her exploring new food places or spending time with the people she loves.

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