The Trump administration unveiled a new anti-opioid education campaign last week, aimed at showcasing how easy it is to become addicted. These efforts to get the addiction crisis under control are noble. The campaign features gut-wrenching videos of young Americans willing to physically harm themselves to get new prescriptions. The portrayal of addiction is convincing.
These kinds of prevention campaigns are important for targeting potential addicts, but don’t do as much for the people already languishing in the midst of their problems. Some of those already addicted folks are now relying on Naxolone, a drug that can revive someone from the brink of death by opioids, and purchases are skyrocketing. The popularity of Naxolone is a testament to how bad things have gotten in America’s great cultural battle against prescription drugs, with record overdose deaths.
To make a dent in those death tolls, we need a full-scale effort that includes government policy, community reform, religious outreach, and prioritizing personal relationships. That’s because this isn’t just about physical addiction, but moral and spiritual decay rooted in the soul. Last year The Washington Post published a series of stories about families dealing with addiction issues. Overwhelmingly, it showed that individuals weren’t simply random casualties of failed government but also were self-destructive, hopeless, and lonely.
This spiritual and personal side is one place we, as a society, must focus on more closely if we intend to make real progress for today’s affected communities and individuals.
My husband, who was raised by a drug-addict single mother, began to fall into the same trap of mental despair experienced by so many who succumb to the numbness of drugs. He spent years battling depression and occasionally using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. What succeeded in pulling him out of the oppression in his life was not a government program, but people who loved him, community support, and finding faith in God. Perhaps a powerful video could have opened his eyes to potential risks, but nothing could make more of a difference than those very real personal and spiritual connections that changed his heart.
The Trump administration’s good-faith policy and education efforts will work better if they are paired with local cities working to uplift their citizens in tangible ways. What many don’t realize is how connected the opioid crisis is to the breakdown of these smaller communities, job loss, a lack of religion, and a growing class gap.
The class gap, in particular, means that opportunities, jobs, and solid family relationships and friendships have grown sparse. People living in these kinds of conditions have the highest rates of opioid overdoses. These are not easy issues to solve, but recognizing the root of the problem is good start.
In my book “Leaving Cloud 9,” I document my husband’s life. He survived a childhood of abuse and neglect brought on by a mother caught in this exact web of addiction and downfall. Those around him retreated into a lifecycle of generational poverty and substance abuse amid their dying community.
He was able to break the cycle in his own life, but his story is rare. More people require and must employ the tools he used to fight the good fight, including caring mentors, church attendance, and close friendships. Ultimately, it came down to valuable personal relationships, spiritual connection, and genuine love.
Implementing effective education campaigns like the Trump administration is doing is one part of it. A strong economy, which contributes to higher job rates, will help begin rebuilding some of the broken-down communities of working-class people as well. Religious folks and church planters should begin to focus more on places where addictions are prevalent and seek out ways to meet people where they are, providing them a place of refreshment, community, and acceptance.
Lastly, individuals and communities should seek to close the “opportunity gap” that exists due to widening class disparity. This can be done through implementing and participating in things like mentorship organizations, sports programs, and purposeful interaction with people outside of one’s class demographic. Good citizens—and good people—have a responsibility to reach out and help those who need it, and that doesn’t just mean a hand-out. It means time, investment, and genuine care for the people who live around you.
Local budgets and city priorities should include community-wide events and family programs that draw people in and make them feel part of something bigger than themselves. This is just a start, and there’s a lot of work to be done. Government, communities, and individuals will have to fight together for the people and places they love to defeat addiction one soul at a time.