In 2012, healthcare providers in the US wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers. That’s enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. This same year 41,502 people died from drug overdoses. Prescription drugs accounted for 53 percent of these fatalities. Of the 22,114 deaths which occurred from these overdoses, 72 percent involved opioid analgesics, and 30 percent involved benzodiazepines.1
When the Centers for Disease Control in the US identified our country’s five top health issues, the second primary concern was preventing prescription drug abuse and overdose. Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, who is the director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, states:
“The problem of prescription painkiller overdoses has reached epidemic proportions. The annual number of overdose deaths from these drugs now exceeds deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. This is a public health crisis and measures must be taken now to reduce the death toll.” 2
A Medical and Spiritual Problem
Conservative Christians are vulnerable to prescription drug abuse. They “know” that alcohol and street drugs are “bad.” But there is a temptation to turn to medical professionals to get more prescription drugs than their condition needs. Then shame locks them into hiding their addiction.
The most common addictive drugs, which can give a state of intoxication, are depressants. These barbiturates and tranquilizers are used to relieve anxiety. But they can quickly become addictive with tolerance levels changing. Stimulants can also be abused, which gives people a sense of alertness. Overdosing on any of these can lead to death.
Church members can quickly judge those struggling with prescription addictions as morally weak. But there is growing awareness that a problem with prescriptive drugs is both medical and spiritual. Help can come from both medical professionals and those who can provide spiritual encouragement.
Getting or Providing Help for an Overdose
If you’re struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs, don’t hesitate to get help. Talk with your medical doctor. If you are tempted to overdose or have taken too many pills, immediately call 9-1-1 and ask for help. You can also talk to someone from the American Association of Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
If you have a family member or friend who seems to have an addiction to prescription drugs, be an encouragement to that person. Begin praying for them. Talk with them. Don’t make excuses for them or try to control their lives. There may be denial and anger. Curtis VanderWaal, MSW, Ph.D., Chair of the Social Work Department at Andrews University, gives these additional suggestions:
“There are, however, some important things which you can do to deal more effectively with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem. You should try to be: Firm – explain why you feel use of alcohol or other drugs can be harmful, causing problems which require counseling or treatment. Understanding – listen to the reasons why he or she uses or abuses alcohol or other drugs. This can be difficult to do, but it is important if you want to maintain a level of trust and convey a sense of acceptance. Supportive – assist the user in finding help and provide moral support through tough times ahead.” 3
All Things Are Possible
God has a tender regard for all who feel overwhelmed by the pain in this world, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. People addicted to prescription drugs may feel it is impossible to let go of medications that help them survive. Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NIV).
If the weight of the world is pressing you down, remember, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 24:18). Know that you have a kind and compassionate God who wants to set you free.
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Curtis Rittenour writes from the Pacific Northwest.
2 Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN made this statement in an article that appeared on the CDC website, but is no longer linked.