An epidemic is raging across Kentucky. According to reports, hundreds more people die from it than from automobile accidents. Even, hundreds more people die from it than from gunshot wounds. Without intervention, mortality rates will continue to rise.
In fact, an assessment by the Drug Enforcement Administration has called prescription drug abuse and heroin, in that order, “the most significant drug threats to the United States.”
Last year, in Louisville alone, 324 people died from drug overdoses, up 47 percent from the previous year, according to the coroner’s count. Statewide, just over 1,300 overdose deaths were reported in 2015, up by 230 from 2012.
An alarming poll released this month found the number of Kentuckians who reported having a family member or friend who uses heroin has nearly doubled since 2013. The Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that 17 percent of adults said they know someone abusing heroin, up from 9 percent in 2013, an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
The number claiming knowledge of heroin abuse was highest in Northern Kentucky: 36 percent. In Louisville, 23 percent did; in Lexington, 20 percent; in Eastern Kentucky, 16 percent; in Western Kentucky, 9 percent. The same poll found that 27 percent of adults said they knew someone who had abused prescription pain pills.
With that many of the general population saying they know someone with drug addiction problems, chances are high that several sitting in your congregation on Sunday morning either are being affected or someone close to them is being affected by drug abuse.
Opioid abuse, particularly, is a major concern in Eastern Kentucky. While millions have been helped by the pain-relieving capacities of opioids, many find one form of pain has been replaced by another—the pain of addiction, explains Barrett Duke, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Opioid addiction is real and deadly,” he warns.
Just this past week, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced establishment of a national Opioid Policy Steering Committee to develop strategies to confront the issue. “Despite the efforts of FDA and many other public health agencies, the scope of the epidemic continues to grow, and the human and economic costs are staggering,” Gottlieb wrote, citing recent statistics showing nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids. “Working together, we need to do all we can to get ahead of this crisis,” he urged.
But is the church doing anything about it?
One key way for concerned Christians to get involved is through supporting foster care and adoptive work for the innocent children who are being neglected or harmed by drug-abusing parents
“Certainly, churches need to be concerned,” Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise Children’s Services told the Western Recorder. “Drug usage is deteriorating our society from the inside out, across all socio-economic sectors,” he said, noting that desperate users will commit crimes to obtain the drugs they crave.
“Drug dependence needs to be addressed as a sickness, and support services provided,” Suttles urged. “Often times, children are in the home unattended, collateral damage from the drug carnage,” he noted. “The courts become overburdened, and the Department for Community Based Services simply can’t keep up with the shear amount of children in the system.
“Loving foster homes to take children in is certainly a start, but an adequate amount of treatment programs to serve this increasing amount of users is a necessity,” Suttles continued.
To illustrate his point, Suttles forwarded a news feature by WAVE TV in which an expectant mom, whose identity was concealed, told of abusing opioid pain killers while pregnant. According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, 1,565 babies were born addicted in Kentucky last year, the story noted, showcasing a new program at Norton Hospital that treats babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
“Loving individuals from the church have to get involved, and the church needs to commit to saving families, or saving children and providing loving, understanding families,” Suttles urged.
In addition to foster and adoptive work, churches can provide resources, spiritual counseling and faith-based drug rehab programs. Churches also can host meetings to train family members and others on how to administer Naloxone, a medication to save someone from an overdose. And, members can commit to pray for those who are struggling with addiction, and family members or spouses should be surrounded by a loving, supportive church family.