The drug problem in this nation has been existent for decades. From the 1960s with “flower power” to the 1980s when First Lady Nancy Reagan took a strong initiative to combat drugs, especially with crack-cocaine, to now in this decade prescription pain medications, opioids. The opioid crisis has spiraled into a pandemic. Epidemic or Pandemic? An epidemic usually affects or is prevalent in a particular community or region. A pandemic is when a disease or condition spreads beyond and affects a nation or in this case the world. Over 200,000 lives and counting have been lost due to the opioid crisis. It is expected that this number will grow over time. President Trump earlier this year declared a state of emergency nationwide for this crisis. However, if there is more awareness of this problem along with strong intervention, it is certainly possible with God’s help that the numbers will not rise but rather decline.
The Orthodox Faithful are not immune to this problem. Within our Orthodox Community we have addicts, recovering addicts, family and friends of the former and latter and health professionals who engage with all the said individuals. The first step is to have awareness, to understand the problem, how it started and how it disseminated. The problem is believed to have originated with the drug manufacturers who make prescription drug medications more and more addictive which then the drug distributors sell to local independent pharmacies, exceeding their regulatory thresholds. Doctors are given incentives to write for these narcotic prescriptions even if a patient’s medical condition does not warrant them. These drugs have even reached the black market, working their way to the streets of America where they are sold along with illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine. Recently there have been episodes on 60 Minutes talking about this crisis. In fact, on one of the episodes, a former Drug Enforcement Agency Agent admitted that the biggest pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corp “was too big to prosecute.” For the DEA to admit something like that on national television tells us just how difficult this problem is to contain.
Many of the victims of this crisis who developed an addiction to prescription narcotics did not have any prior history of any kind of illicit drug use. Many had an injury or health condition causing tremendous pain that necessitated the need for such medications. However, after only a few weeks on them or even in some cases a few days, many people developed a dependency on these drugs. Even once their injuries healed or health conditions improved, they maintained a dependency on these medications. At that point it was the negligence of the physicians whether intentional or unintentional to continue to prescribe the same drugs without any legitimate medical need. So in theory anyone is a potential victim if in the event some unfortunate injury or disease warrants the need for such medications.
As a Church, both as a royal and ministerial priesthood in Christ, our priority should be concern for our own faithful and their needs but our mission should not end there. Christ said to his Apostles, “You are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5: 14, 16) We as a Church united in this battle against this horrific adversary, the opioid pandemic, have both a duty and opportunity to lead not only this nation but the world in defeating this crisis. Let not our efforts stop at our Orthodox faithful but let it include the entire world.
So what can be done? Things like offering discussion groups on this topic and providing literature in bulletins and information on websites and other forms of media can be a start. Local communities can sponsor a Twelve Step Program, Narcotics Anonymous. Just like with alcoholics who have AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) as an option, opioid addicts and drug addicts in general have Narcotics Anonymous (NA) available to them. Twelve Step Programs have been around for over 80 years and have proven results. Even recovering addicts still go to meetings to maintain their sobriety. For the families and friends of addicts and recovering addicts, there is a Twelve Step Program for them too. It is called Nar-Anon and it is very similar to Al-Anon and Alateen which are for families and friends of alcoholics. As for healthcare workers who engage with addicts and their friends and families, there is no specific group to address their concerns and needs. That is why there is an opportunity for the Orthodox Community to establish a support group or discussion group exclusively for health care workers so that they can share their stories of struggle and create a fellowship. It is very difficult time for our Orthodox healthcare workers who are conscientious and adhere to morals and ethics. Seeing people die in great numbers and the mistrust of the industry certainly is difficult. For local communities to offer some kind of discussion/support group would be beneficial.
Despite the staggering numbers of casualties and the mistrust of the healthcare industry currently, we as the Orthodox Church can overcome these challenges with faith and determination. The opportunity has never been greater for us, the Body of Christ, the Church to come together and fight this horrific crisis. Let our battle cry be: “Save O Lord Your people and bless Your inheritance, granting victory to your rulers to prevail over adversaries, and protecting Your commonwealth by Your Cross.”