When it comes to social issues – the one conversation this writer does not believe is happening – has to do with the opioid crisis that our nation is facing. It seems the Church has faltered in addressing this issue. And, that is a very tragic and fatal mistake.
According to the U.S. National Library Medicine’s website:
In 2016, more than 20,000 deaths in the United States were caused by an overdose of prescription opioids, and another 13,000 deaths resulted from heroin overdose. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in U.S. adults under age 50, and opioids account for more than half of all drug overdose deaths.
On June 23, 2019, Tim Kershner write’s an article on the United Church of Christ’s website how an urgent action is needed regarding the crisis. The National Association of Evangelicals has published a podcast regarding the opioid crisis and how Christians are able to respond. Another great resource for Christians and Churches, within local communities, on the crisis and how to respond, is published by Park Hill Baptist Church.
Real practical solutions provide real success in recovery
With all this information, what is the best and realistic practical solutions Christians and community Churches are able to utilize and implement? Here are a list of steps needed to work with individuals (within and without the faith-community):
Access to ongoing treatment and support is critical to one’s recovery
With opioid substance use disorders, that are moderate to severe, require a three equally parts of successful treatment. First, getting connected with local clinics and agencies that provide Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT). These agencies are compliant with federal and state government legislation to provide Methadone, Suboxone, or Subutex medication.
Second, these agencies (and medical clinics) provide person-centered and individualized care through therapeutic counseling. Typically with a Substance Use Disorder Professional who is assigned to meet with the individual. Group therapy may be required and recommended. Random observed or unobserved urine analysis testing. Medically managed and monitoring of a person’s dose for stability, potential risk factors for over-medication, and medically assisted detoxification.
Third, an aspect of any person in treatment and recovery from any form of substance use disorder, is the peer support of family and friends. Having a solid connection with caring, compassionate, and non-judgmental and critical individuals in a person’s life may facilitate greater success in recovery. This is not a sure-fire guarantee that a family member or loved one will be successful. However, it greatly increases the efficacy of their treatment and chances to recovery from opiate substance use disorder.
While, as Christians, we recognize the role of centering our faith and hope on Jesus Christ; we must also face the reality that there are professional resources the Christian community is able to connect with and provide referrals for members of their faith-based congregation struggling with opioid use.
In fact, one of the questions asked on the biopsychosocial assessment is a person’s spiritual and religious upbringing. Where they brought up in a home or Church? Majority of the patient’s I have conducted assessments on in the past 7+ years always affirm some Christian upbringing and affiliation. This question is followed up with, Are you connected with a faith-based community? Do you participate in any religious ritual? Do you pray and/or meditate daily?
Out of those that are assessed for treatment to manage and recovery from opioid substance abuse may have some spiritual abuse and trauma that they have personally experienced. Therefore, getting them connected to treatment facilities that will provide ongoing continuum of care for substance use related issues is the first step in helping those struggling.
Mental Health services and Case Management for continuum of care
Addressing substance use related disorders, specifically opiate use disorder, also draws attention to the need for mental health services and case management. In the social human services field, this is referred to as co-occurring disorders and getting individuals connected to mental health treatment and services is also a great resource.
Combining both, MAT-treatment for opiate replacement therapy and counseling, mental health services and treatment, will help facilitate greater success in recovery and establishing a sustaining and stable life.
Mental health services includes addressing trauma informed care, Post accute withdrawal syndrome, borderline personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, adult children of alcoholics and family dysfunctions, and any other mental health related issues.
Most treatment facilities have medically assisted treatment with mental health services. Other clinics provide MAT services and refer out for mental health services.
Abstinence based recovery verses harm reduction intervention and recovery
The old school way of treatment involved the tough love approach and the misconceptions that substance use related disorders are merely a lack of volition (will power) and reduced to “you can choose to not use just as much as you can choose to use.”
This old way of thinking is no longer valid and true. Granted, there are a minuscule of individuals successfully white-knuckling, Jesus taking the wheel, and cold turkeying from active use: the vast majority, especially heroin and opiate dependent individuals, need more than stop, drop, and peace out from their using.
In harm reduction, it is working with the individual and recognizing the progress they are making toward establishing abstinence. And, many people in early recovery do not see much of a progress. Let alone, feel any pride in moving further and further away from there use.
For instance, on average, an individual is assessed and admitted into a Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program. While they are moving toward a therapeutic stable dose, their reduction in use of heroin typically subsides and decreases in frequency and amount. Here is an example.
A patient comes in and reports using approximately 1-2 grams of heroin a day. Typically using, on average, about 4-5 times per day. Within about three weeks, they may cut down to using 1-2 times per day and using on average .1 or .2 grams of heroin a day (via injection). They may only be at about 50 mgs for methadone dosing, however, their use has decreased significant in amount and frequency of using.
Is this person completely abstinent? No, however, is there a progression in moving toward abstinence? Yes there is. Harm reduction is also not about a person’s substance use. Harm reduction is all-encompassing regarding their living environment, level of productivity (are they employed, seeking employment, volunteering, seeking any form of assistance and help?) Is their peer support increasing in them moving toward healthier goals? Are their family supportive and actively involved in their treatment? What about their significant other? Are there parenting needs?
Recovery is not merely about getting people to stop using. It is addressing the whole-person: mind, body, and spirit. Harm reduction, with the utilization of therapeutic interventions of motivational interviewing techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches, peer support group therapy sessions, peer support community based recovery groups, and faith-based community and family support all play a part in assisting a person’s success in recovery and treatment.
Relapse Prevention and protection of sobriety
One of the greatest travesties a person faces in recovery is when they start moving forward and transforming their lives: Family and friends may no longer recognize this new person. As part of relapse prevention and protecting an individual’s sobriety is the family of origin engaging in recovery as well. Understanding that the person they used to know no longer exists.
As Christians, we understand this when someone comes to faith, has a sincere and genuine spiritual birth and comes to faith through Jesus Christ. Their life transforms to a whole new person. The old person is being put to death. Yet, we as Christians neglect to understand this when it comes to individuals in treatment and recovery.
It may look something like this:
An individual comes into recovery and treatment, they start working, establishing abstinence and improving their overall quality of life. Addressing the emotional and mental health related issues, learning to develop better financial responsibility, repairing and restoring broken relationships, healing spiritually, eating and exercising to become healthier individuals.
Family members, and the Faith-Based community at large, does not accept them. Instead, they hold onto the old person, waiting for the old Jim to show up any day now. Because this is what family and faith based community members are used to. The lying, deceiving, manipulation, stealing, etc.
Forgiveness plays a huge role in recovery and is one of the many reasons it is part of the 12-step program. It is also integral in our Christian Faith and commandment from Jesus Christ himself.
Or, it may be something else along these lines:
Enabling them to have a little bit of alcohol, or take a pill to help with the pain. Maybe even disregard treatment and 12-step recovery participation all together.
Supporting those in recovery is understanding what risk factors are going to move someone closer to relapse. It is also being educated and aware of when someone appears to be moving toward relapsing.
Getting back to the practical solutions – what Christians are enable to do to help those in recovery
As stated, understanding the nature and problematic issue with the Opioid epidemic is critical. Becoming aware of people’s individual’s needs, having available access to resources to assist individuals in getting treatment, and supporting them in treatment is essentially the practical solutions Christians are enabled to do.
We are not in the business of judging those suffering from opiate (or any other related) substance use disorder. Our goal is to reach out and meet them where they are at. Offering the person hope, resources, encouragement, and any other support necessary. All it takes is what the Apostle Paul taught – Compassion, love, and charity.
Please contact me via email: Timothy@Damascuswayrecovery.org regarding any of the following:
- Resources and professional treatment facilities for recovery within the Greater Seattle/Washington Area
- Local Church, Ministry, or Pastoral Staff looking for training on prevention and intervention
- Interested in setting up a Damascus Way Recovery Men’s Discipleship program through your Church Ministry and Outreach Team
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