The president’s speech yesterday on the opioid crisis, delivered in his on unique style, was amazing. He understands the usefulness of these medications and their potential for abuse and attempts to strike a balance. There is only one factor that I think was missed and that is the role of Obamacare, and insurance generally, in this mess.
Even before Obamacare, healthcare was in limited supply and that matters a lot. A few years ago someone very close to me suffered a severe accident that resulted in a broken arm that required surgery to repair. Due to a lack of facilities and specialists there was a week between accident and surgery – a week in a splint – a week in great pain – a week where this individual was expected to get through on opioids – a week where in a weaker individual addiction was a possibility. This individual chose to bear the pain and avoid the opioids, but most people are not that strong. Were healthcare services more readily available such waiting and the potential for addiction could have been avoided. Pricing and payment control in healthcare, whether in Obamacare or simply through the power of major insurers limits healthcare availability as physicians and facilities will target more frequent, and therefore more profitable, procedures and care.
There was one paragraph in the president’s speech that I found truly amazing:
The fact is if we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take them. And I think that’s going to end up being our most important thing. Really tough, really big, really great advertising. So we get to people before they start so they don’t have to go through the problems of what people are going through.
In this utterance, the president acknowledges that in the end the use and/or abuse of opioids is an individual choice. Opioids are not of themselves the issue, the issue is how people choose to react to them and how they choose to use them. Affecting individual choice like that is difficult. The advertising the president mentions will certainly help, but in the end and throughout history no mechanism has proven more effective at altering personal behavior than the church.
The opioid crisis is much more than a crisis in medical care, it is another symptom of the crisis in the soul of our nation. We are less tolerant of pain than we once were – most people my friend has interacted with regarding the broken arm have considered the decision to avoid opioids something between ill-advised and remarkably stupid. We are less compassionate than we once were – compassion would wish to heal the broken arm, not dull the pain while they wait. Then there is the simple emotional/soulful need that drives people to feel relieved when partially sedated.
Christianity teaches that pain is a part of life. Christianity provides strength when we lack it. Christianity fills the holes in our souls that opioids can only mask over. This last point is why AA works when so many other addiction treatments do not.
The opioid crisis is a challenge for Christianity more than the federal government. Does your church have a ministry to deal with those dealing with opioids? Does your church help advise people confronted with situations like my friend? What is your church doing to help those for whom opioids are useful from turning into abusive addicts? Does your church bring the Savior that plugs holes in souls or does your church just provide a different kind of drug to mask the hole?
If your church does not do those things, maybe it is time they did. I can virtually assure you there is someone there struggling with this issue.