Overdosing from despair: How the Church can fight the opioid epidemic

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josh p's picture

After listening to an interview with the author of "Freedomland" on this issue I have resolved to try to avoid taking  opioids unless absolutely necessary. I'm sure we all know several addicted people. If we know the threat then we should try to avoid it. 

Jim, your link didn't work. Could you fix it? 

Steve Davis's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

One thing that can help is for churches to get back to preaching, teaching, warning, about the dangers of drugs whether they be opioids or alcohol. 

God said to be sober. 


David R. Brumbelow

I know it's hard to resist bringing up alcohol in your posts but please try to focus on the problem at hand. I've worked as an addiction therapist for over seven years. Many of the addicts I've worked with became addicted because they were prescribed opioid medication and did not realize how dependence and addiction works. They were nurses, truck drivers, car accident victims who became addicted without knowing it. There has been a lack of education on the risks of pain medication and enormous profits from the sale of pain meds. Too few pastors are knowledgeable enough about addiction to deal with it. Warning only goes so far. People need the gospel and gospel community. Nothing addresses addiction better than that. 

Joeb's picture

We have talked about this subject before and some people can come through back surgery and never have a problem again. Others it does not work that way.  When some one is in chronic pain for years with no resolution they have no choice in the matter if they want any kind of life. 

I have seen a Pastor of a church I attended brought to his knees because of the pain.  He resigned as Senior Pastor because he was going into a deep depression from dealing with the pain for 20 years.  So it's just not I'll drop off because I'm sinning taking opiod pain killers.  It's not that simple. This can not be put in a category of drinking.  If you have never suffered chronic pain it's easy to pass judgement  on a believer who is.  

I have felt that pain prior to having back surgery and worked with it for two years until I did get back surgery.  I did not take narcotic pain killers the whole time but I suffered greatly.

 I was injured in the line of duty while qualifying on the range with a 870 Remington Combat Shotgun.  The first 3 rounds are slugs and without thinking I shot them from what they call a weaver stance which is used to shoot my handgun.   The recoil of the shotgun twisted my spine and herniated a disk in my lower back.  This is what I got Surgery for and my recovery was very painful and took 9 months and it still was not perfect. 

Flash forward 18 years later with at least two serious down times and PT I have still been able to remain fairly active.  Now though my pain is back and a recent MRI shows another herniated disk and bulging disks plus scoliosis ie my back is a train wreck.  Two surgeons were consulted and none wants to touch me unless I'm going to be in a wheel chair.  

Now to manage my pain I take 1 1/2 percusets a night and a muscle relaxant to sleep.  My pain comes at night. During the day I take Relafin an anti inflammatory if I need it.  Now the percusets are the lowest dose 5/235   So Far I have had no desire to take them during the day unless I need to go on a long road trip of 12 hrs driving.  

The above being said I have a friend who has stenosis of the spine where his bone is slowly growing around his spinal   Chord and choking it.  Nothing he did to cause this but to work he has no choice.  He takes OxyContin and percusets to manage the pain. The surgery is so risky the Drs refuse to do it unless like me he is going be in a wheel chair.  Now he can nothing but be addicted and go through withdraw if he stops. 

Multiply similar situations all a across our country and include believers and you get the idea. 

Now as far as the abuse it can be simply only needing 5 instead of 20 after knee surgery or another simple surgery.  Especially if we're talking about a young person.  In NJ they passed a law that patients only get like 10 percusets which is enough for day 5 days instead the usual 30 or 60.  

So I say to you that the church can not rush to judgement on people using opioids for treating chronic pain and if one chooses legalized medicinal marijuana either.  It is not the same as alcohol although some people have maxed out their n opioids and turn to drinking to deal with the pain.  When the pain is that bad you are willing to do anything to make it stop including taking ones own life.  I have been there with the pain being that bad. 

PS I have been doing this regime for about a year. I was working toward getting off and then got laid up for three months with an enlarged prostate which caused to not be able to drain my bladder.  So Between waiting to try drugs and waiting for green light laser surgery I was on a cathader for 2 months.  This threw me a curve and knocked me off the wagon.   I need to try PT again which I do myself.  I have gotten lazy.   I need Bert to give me a good swift kick in my arse.  

David R. Brumbelow's picture

I do not argue against the proper use of drugs for strictly medicinal purposes.  

I do, however, argue against the use of drugs for recreation, pleasure, to get high, to get a buzz, to get drunk. 

We should be afraid of drugs and use them with great caution. 

Unless you have a legitimate need for the medicinal use of a drug, stay away from it. 

And, this should be taught to youth and adults in our churches. If so, it would reduce the numbers of those addicted.  

David R. Brumbelow

Joeb's picture

I met a guy on a boat while fishing for strippers last year.   He was totally disabled from working due to a tragic work place accident.  

This fellow was in a Cherry Picker helping his father's employer do tree work.  The Owner was impatient with their progress and wanted them to go faster.  Now him and his father are in the bucket and they see the owner reach for a lever while trying to rush them along.  They scream not that lever.  The owner pulls the lever dropping the bucket in a free fall right to the ground.

 Afterwards both he and his father suffer catastrophic injuries but survive.   This guy's back is totally shattered and his father's pelvis is shattered.   The surgeons put him and his father. together again the best they could.   The fellow did receive a financial settlement so money is not his problem  

He can walk but his pain level is out of this world.  He is on the highest doses of OxyContin allowed now but the effect is starting to wane. If he were to stop using them he would go into terrible withdrawal.  He has no choice but to continue.  

So addicted yes aboslutely for this poor guy.  The point I'm making is being addicted does not make you in sin.  

Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast for opioids .  He is going to explore a electronic implant shock devise.  Even though he received big dollars he would give all the money up to be normal.  

The point I'm making is we need to be careful in addressing this with are Christian Brother's and sisters.  The good news is there are two new drugs their working on to attack pain without the addiction side effects. One is a modified opioid  and the other is another compound.  Pray that the Lord guides these researchers.  The good thing is whoever comes up with it they will hit a home run financially.  So the carrot and the stick is motivating the research along with a better way to deal with pain. 

Bert Perry's picture

Per David's comments, Ecclesiastes 9:7 comes to mind, not to mention the intoxicant in my coffee cup right now.  

Regarding opiates, I'm no expert, but with five children born by C section, and being without a gallbladder and having made a number of visits to the ER (including one last week), it's a really complicated thing.  Some drugs work well for some people, but not for others.  My wife, after one of five c sections, said "I don't want THAT ever again"--she felt as if she didn't care about her new baby and didn't want that feeling every again.  

I've had it hinted by an MD that when life is awful, opiates make a huge difference in mood--while when life is OK, opiates simply kill the pain (my experience when my gallbladder was taken out).  Mostly.  My daughter was in the ER last Wednesday with a broken leg, and morphine didn't touch it.  Setting the bone was required to kill the pain.  On this forum, one commenter found that oxycontin didn't touch his pain--but marijuana did.  I was surprised last year when a young believer in my church went into Teen Challenge for heroin addiction.  

Which is a long way of saying that it's a fairly complex thing where we've got issues of the cost of opiates (Jim's comment way above), the difficulties of modern life, and the simple variability of human responses to various painkillers.  Trying to boil it down to black and white categories is simply harmful because it prevents the kind of analysis that will help people eliminate some pain without becoming addicted.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

....it is a good one that emphasizes, albeit in a Catholic way with its sacramentalism and such, pretty much what Steve notes above, and does a good turn in noting that sometimes we are called on to suffer a degree of pain for Christ.  It also notes the social isolation that can often lead to addiction.  

One other thing; opiod deaths, at about 50,000 annually (rising over the past few years, hopefully that stops!), exceed all gun deaths including not only intentional homicide, but also suicides and accidents.  It's also more than all motor vehicle deaths.  Big, big deal. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Steve Davis's picture

I did want to comment briefly on the difference between addiction and dependence. People who use opioids for pain management are considered dependent but not addicted. They are not drug addicts since addiction by definition involves negative behaviors which accompany the physical/psychological effects of craving and withdrawal. In the therapeutic community there are distinctions made between drug use, drug abuse, drug dependence, and drug addiction.

As Bert mentioned this is a complex issue. I know people who took pain meds once and could not stand the feeling. Others found relief from pain and knew little or nothing about withdrawal that took place after a short time and the associated craving. They got help immediately and with support were able to stop. Still others take opioids and have never felt better and continue to take them in search of that blissful, carefree state of mind. Once addicted the opioids are needed simply to feel normal, to function. And once the prescription meds are no longer available at the pharmacy they are available elsewhere on the street. Once buying on the street, from there it is a short step to snorting heroin without ever thinking about mainlining. I would say that a large percentage of those I worked with followed this path.

There is a great deal of discussion today on whether addiction is a disease and actually has been declared such by many in the scientific and medical community. People will still argue until they are blue in the face whether addiction is a disease or a choice. I like to think of it as a disease of choice. That is, rarely is someone forced to take that first opioid (although I’ve known exceptions). Once addicted there is something that goes on in the addicted brain that damages the choice mechanism in favor of the pleasure pathway. The addict does not simply have the choice to stop using on his own. That rarely happens. Treatment is a choice. There is normally some sort of intervention – detox, medication assisted treatment (i.e., methadone, buprenorphine, suboxone, etc.). I’ve worked with people on these medications. Some work better than others for certain people. Some will be on substitute medication for life. I keep two doses of Narcan spray (naloxone) in my car in case I run into someone overdosed and have received training in its administration (although it's not that complicated). 

Again it’s complex. It’s an epidemic. I have seen people become drug-free after their conversion to Christ. Conversion happens in a moment. Recovery does not. Becoming a new creation in Christ gives someone the resident Holy Spirit but does immediate relieve all drug cravings and behaviors. Christians need the support of their ecclesial community in their struggle and a discipleship pathway. Churches need to be educated on this issue.