Addressing the “Other Pandemic”

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“They are good people with lots of potential.”

These words were uttered by British Columbia's Chief Coroner, Lisa Lapointe, as she lamented the lack of action on the opioid crisis. The average age of those dying from fentanyl is 43. BC’s “other pandemic” kills 6 to 7 people a day because its victims are considered less worthy.

When I read these words in the January 31 issue of the Vancouver Sun, I felt a sense of urgency that we need to continue talking about this as a broad faith community. Though we in the church may not always know what to do about the challenges of addiction, there is much that we can say and do to proclaim the worthiness of God’s image bearers.

This “other pandemic” of poisoned drug supply has affected our family personally as our adopted children lost a birth family member to fentanyl in October 2020. I watched my children and their birth family grieve the tragic loss of life, a loss that began when addiction took over many years before.

This crisis does not only exist in British Columbia—it is felt all over Canada. In 2020, 4,395 people in Canada died (12 people a day) of opioid-related causes. (Opioid Crisis Fact Sheet - CCSA)

How can deacons live out their mandate to “be compassionate to those in need and treat them with dignity and respect” in regards to the opioid crisis? How can deacons be “prophetic critics of injustice” and “sensitive counsellors to the victims of such evils” while also speaking words of hope?

Faith leaders are in a unique position in that they may be approached for support before anyone else. By taking a knowledgeable stand on the issue of opioid use, church communities can help bring healing to individuals and their families.

Deacons in particular work to build trust relationships with those they serve and can connect people to the help they need. Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life: mind, body, spirituality, and community.

Here are some places deacons can start when addressing this ongoing crisis:

1. Deacons can work towards reducing the stigma around addiction by modeling and encouraging open and honest conversations in their community. Drug use can affect any one of us. We can pray together and believe in the hope that Christ has come to free us all from the bondage of sin, and the bondage of addiction. Jesus was moved with compassion for the many people brought to him in need of healing (Luke 7, Matthew 8, Mark 6). Let us speak with the same desire to see people brought to wellness. As we speak about those struggling with addiction with love and grace, we can work towards becoming a community of safety.

2. Consider opening your church facilities to recovery and support groups. Someone may have a loved one struggling with addictions and be looking for a place to share their grief and fears without judgment.

3. Research the options for treatment locally and be ready with this information in supporting an individual and family as they make a decision on the journey towards recovery.

4. Talk with a local Recovery Centre, rehab, or shelter staff to hear about the changes in health care needed and the direction towards establishing a safe drug supply. Discuss ways in which your church can be involved and support their efforts.

5. Become educated on the complexities of addiction. Addiction cannot simply be overcome with lots of willpower. Professional help will be needed. Though we as faith leaders may not be experts or professionals in this area, we can become informed in the areas of trauma and mental health so as to approach an individual and family affected with deep compassion.

Seeing on the front page of the newspaper that people God created are considered worthless due to their circumstance of addiction should cause us to pause. As believers we should be the first to declare that “we treat all life with awe and respect, especially when it is most vulnerable—whether growing in the womb, touched by disability or disease, or drawing a last breath.” (Our World Belongs to God - #44)

Let us never cease pointing one another and those in our community struggling with the weight of addiction that “there is one in whose name salvation is found: Jesus Christ. That God loves all His creation; his compassion knows no bounds.” (Our World Belongs to God - #42)

Looking for Resources? Here are some:

Rachel Vroege is the Regional Ministry Developer for Western Canada for Diaconal Ministries Canada. She can be reached at [email protected].

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"Though we in the church may not always know what to do about the challenges of addiction, there is much that we can say and do to proclaim the worthiness of God’s image bearers."

Amen!

Thanks for this great starter list. With the encouragement to do a little digging I was happy to learn about a wide spectrum of care and programs available. It would be great if there was more of them but programs ranged from complete abstinence to moderated harm reduction models. One, that some of my friends are involved with and testify to being very meaningful in their lives, is called Celebrate Recovery. And if you are a reader and like biographies, From the Ashes - by Jesse Thistle, is an emotionally difficult read but very eye opening reality to the injustice around this topic.