I am alarmed! No, I’m frightened! I need your help!
Recently, I visited an outreach ministry of one of our congregations. A juvenile court officer who was part of the group described the horrible assault on the welfare of the community wrought by drug addiction. Heroin specifically. And alcohol, too.
One of the young men in the group spoke about being sober for a year, but also told us how he failed six or seven times before getting clean. And he’s only seventeen!
Many news and journal outlets tell us the devastating story. Drug addiction deaths are sky rocketing at rates ranging from 280% to 700% in the last ten years or so.
Families torn apart; health destroyed; crime increasing; resources stretched beyond their limits.
We are experiencing a narcoticized culture. That’s probably a made-up word, but you know what it means.
At our visit that day we commented how often we use the phrase “drugs and alcohol” as if alcohol were not also a narcotic. Upwards of $2 billion a year is spent on alcohol advertising, a great lot of it aimed at ever younger audiences, similar to tactics of the tobacco industry! We need to learn how to say “alcohol and other drugs.”
Someday, I’ll sit home and watch television all day just to count the times that “something to drink” shows up – to celebrate, to commiserate, to relax, to reduce stress, to mourn, to congratulate, to embolden, to seal a deal, to socialize. There are very few programs which do not make drinking look like the way to handle your life is to drug it. Then, I’ll concentrate on the references to other drugs, too.
Recent studies list Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia as three of the top five states experiencing incredible increases in death by drug overdose! Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron and Cleveland are listed as communities with the highest overdose death rates. These communities are part of our Ohio Conference family.
So here’s the thing. I planned to write a pastoral letter to our churches, urging us all to take a careful look at our tolerance for the use of alcohol, and to develop a pro-active response to heroin/opioid abuse. Then I realized you could help make it a more effective, relevant and positive epistle.
So, pastors and counselors, social workers and correctional officers, lawyers and specialists, chaplains and teachers – will you share stories and resources and ideas with me about what you do to help families who must deal with rehabilitation, how you counsel young people to avoid being sucked into addictive behaviors, how you support community agencies and schools and specialized ministries that deal with prevention and recovery?
What you share can provide a rich resource to help our UCC faith community wage a war against the scourge of drug abuse and its deadly consequences.
We used to call it “a problem.” Then we said it is “an alarming problem.” Now many observers describe it as an epidemic. I call it a plague! Overdoses of alcohol and other drugs claim nearly 30,000 lives a year. In one year, that’s half the number of military personnel we lost in the twenty years of the Viet Nam conflict! Deaths from drug abuse now surpass automobile deaths.
We can do something about this culture which glamorizes drinking by women, makes jokes about drunkenness, and stereotypes heroin use as something only poor folks and minority groups do. That, by the way, is simply not a fact! Drug abuse knows no restrictions to class, race, economic, professional, age, gender, or social status.
We need to address this calamity without becoming theologically judgmental or prudish. Will you help me by sharing some effective practices that make a difference?
Write comments to this posting. Send ideas, action possibilities, notes about resources you’ve found to be helpful to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s work together to reduce the ranks of our sisters and brothers who succumb to mind and soul-numbing addictions.
Use this Lenten season as a springboard toward filling this culture with hope, help, and healing.
Rev. John Gantt
Interim Conference Minister