February 2, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Drug abuse threatens human life, dignity and families

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The use of drugs inflicts very grave danger on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct cooperation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2291).

In our country, drug abuse is a serious problem. Wars stimulate drug use as wounded soldiers return home wracked with pain, but even in peacetime people turn to many different kinds of drugs, including opioids (prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone or fentanyl, and illegal substances such as heroin) to help them deal with painful illnesses, loneliness and the anxiety of daily life.

The abuse of any drug—legal or illegal—is deadly serious. Six out of 10 drug-overdose deaths involve opioids, and drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from prescription drug overdoses or heroin, and an estimated 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription pain relievers while another half million are addicted to heroin.

In addition to the grave harm done to addicts, drug abuse also affects many other family members, co-workers, friends and society as a whole. It is estimated that every addict affects at least four other people, especially spouses and children. Families suffer enormous emotional, physical and financial trauma when one or more of their members is addicted to prescription painkillers and/or illegal drugs. More than 40 percent of children placed in foster care come from families burdened with drug addiction.

This life issue threatens human life and dignity. Think of how many unborn children are exposed to opioids through their mother’s bloodstream. These children tend to be smaller and to weigh less than other newborns. They often exhibit symptoms of withdrawal after birth, and they are at a higher risk for behavioral problems as they grow older. It’s a vicious cycle—anxiety leads to drug use which, in turn, creates further anxiety and even more drug abuse.

What’s the solution? If it were simple or painless, we would have eliminated the drug problem long ago. In fact, this is a very complex and difficult problem that is broadly and deeply embedded in our society. No single solution—whether legal, moral, spiritual or sociological—presents itself as “the answer” to our current opioid crisis, or to the longstanding problem of drug addiction here in Indiana or throughout the world.

Still, we cannot afford to stand idly by while millions of our sisters and brothers suffer. We must act in ways that are consistent with our baptismal responsibility to bring the healing power of Jesus Christ to all who suffer whether they are close to home or, as Pope Francis says, on the margins of society, “the peripheries.”

As we look for ways to respond to this crisis, it’s helpful to refer to the Indiana bishops’ 2015 pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana.” Poverty results from many different causes and takes many different forms, but drug addiction is certainly one of the main causes—and effects—of poverty. Here is a slight adaptation in italics of what we write in the introduction to “Poverty at the Crossroads”:

We bishops have a particular obligation to care for the most vulnerable members of God’s family. That is why we pay special attention to the unborn, to the sick and the elderly, to prisoners, to those who suffer from various forms of addiction or mental illness, and to the education of people from many different backgrounds and circumstances. That is also why we care, in a very special way, for those brothers and sisters of ours who are poor and who suffer from all forms of drug addiction.

Using the simple formula of SEE, JUDGE, ACT, we invite and challenge everyone, beginning with ourselves, to be more attentive to the poor, including those suffering from all forms of addiction, in our communities, to identify the systemic issues that keep individuals and families poor, and to take concrete steps to reduce the long-term impact of poverty and drug addiction in our state, even as we reach out and help those who, here and now, suffer from its devastating effects.

Let’s open our eyes and recognize (SEE) drug addiction for what it is. Let’s make serious decisions (JUDGE) about steps we can take as individuals, families and communities to address all of the contributing factors to the current opioid epidemic.

And, finally, with the help of God’s grace, let’s do whatever we can (ACT) to help those who suffer now and in the future. †

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