“You might just save a life”: Drug Addiction and Christian Responsibility

You gave me WHAT?!

There I was, laying on the operating table when the anesthesiologist informed me that she had just administered fentanyl to me. I had started to feel my body slowing down and I had said something to her. “Oh yes,” she said, “I’ve given you the fentanyl.” Those words brought me to full alert status. She tried to reassure me: “It’s ok, it’s hospital grade. You’ll be fine.” I was manifestly uncomfortable with this drug, but it was too late. I muttered that I could feel the blood rushing to my head and was told that that was expected. BAM! The lights went out.

The next thing I knew, I was floating as if at the beginning of a dream, waiting for the scene to start. Suddenly, I returned to consciousness and was being wheeled into post-op. I did a quick self-check: my name? Check. Where I was? Check. Able to answer questions from the attendant? Check. I even went over my knowledge of Portuguese (yes, I actually did that).

Fentanyl is all over the news today. As one who keeps fairly up to date with the news, I have grown more and more concerned about this drug’s rise in popularity. I read the symptoms and what people are taking it for, and it shocks me. How is it that people would want to get on it? I mean, don’t people like to feel like they are in control of themselves? That’s just it: people want to be in control, but many don’t feel like they have control of their feelings. So, they turn to drugs like fentanyl to tune out, to drown out the feelings. In short, it’s a coping mechanism.

I’ve never been one for drugs. Once, I accidentally mixed two cold medicines together when I was a teenager and have never forgotten the experience. I called it feeling “balloon-headed” because of how the mix made my head feel lighter than air. Now, as a grown adult, I find myself reflecting upon these experiences in the light of my mortality. I cannot say that I judged people with drug addictions. Rather, I just didn’t have an intellectual framework in my mind to understand it. My recent experience with it, combined with what I see of the human condition and today’s society, has helped me, I think, to grasp it better.

There is also a growing awareness within me about how important the Gospel is for people who suffer from addiction to drugs. As I see it, many people today have no hope and no good support system. In bygone days, strong family ties (though not foolproof) helped people to stay on the straight and narrow path of life. The family was the training ground for kids to learn about life and its pressures, and to be given the tools to succeed. This is not so much the case now, as the past decades have seen the gradual breakdown of the family. In such circumstances, our anxieties and stressors can become real killers, and people become desperate to cope with life’s pressures. Now, I’m not going to give cheap advice for such people, such as “You need Jesus” or “Jesus is the answer to all your troubles.” As true as those things are, we also hear a lot today about the “ministry of presence” and we should reflect upon what this means and how to apply it in our outreach to others.

I think that the drug problem today requires actual witnesses and able bodies—”boots on the ground,” so to speak—to witness to the love of God. The Apostle James says in his letter,

And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?

James 2:15-16, Douay-Rheims

Of course, this passage from James plays into the famous debate over the role of faith and works. My point here, however, is that we Christians are called not just to be well-wishers, but doers of the Gospel. In this way, we will be following the example that the Lord Himself has laid out for us in salvation history. The Second Vatican Council taught,

[The] plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. [ … ]

Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal.

Dei Verbum, 2, 4

Words proclaim, deeds are plain. In other words, one’s deeds are there for all to see and they will either testify to one’s words/beliefs or they will not. Our call as Christians is to bear witness to Christ and the Gospel, and to help our neighbor as best as we can. As I see it, this witness begins at home with our own families. Parents have the primary responsibility of educating their children. The tools that children learn in their formative years will last for the rest of their lives. “Catch-up” can be done only with difficulty.

As for people who handle their stress through addiction, we Christians need to be there for them. We are not their doctors (except for those of us who are!), but we can take time to be of service in some way. And we can be guideposts for them, setting examples as to how the Christian life can help people through their particular struggles. Simply listening and letting people know that you care is huge. So is prayer. So is giving concrete assistance. And the life of Christian wisdom that one leads can be a powerful example.

If you know someone who is stressed and addicted, try reaching out and just listen to them. Consider ways that you can be of help. Let them know that you are there for them, and then be there for them. You might just save a life.

Author: Kevin Symonds

Kevin Symonds was born and raised in Massachusetts. In 2003, he received his B.A. in Theological Studies from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio with an emphasis on the Classical Languages. Three years later, he obtained his M.A. degree in Theological Studies also from Franciscan University. Kevin lives in North Dakota. He specializes in the Catholic Church’s theology of private revelation and has written books and numerous articles (print and Internet). He is a member of the Mariological Society of America.

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