By / Apr 18

Prior to the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the opioid epidemic was the healthcare crisis that grabbed and held our attention. In the State of Tennessee, where I live, deaths related to drug overdoses increased by 18% from 2018 to 2019.12021 TN Annual Overdose Report, p. 30 

In Wilson County, local law enforcement was speed-tracking resources and training to curb overdoses induced by Fentanyl-laced opioids. African American pastors, particularly, were conducting more funerals of congregants who lost their battle with addiction. And initiated by the county mayor’s office, a task force was established in 2018 to bring addiction awareness, education, and prevention practices to our affluent, upper-middle class community.

The COVID pandemic, however, did not curb opioid use and abuse. It merely moved it out of plain view, but only temporarily. Substance abuse and overdoses continue at alarming rates along with other mental health challenges affecting neighbors of all ages. In our community, for example, local middle school administrators are forced to call an ambulance almost daily due to suicidal or homicidal ideations from middle school students. Social-emotional challenges not only hinder a student’s ability to learn, but create a difficult environment for both students and faculty in our public schools. 

The opioid crisis is a devastating symptom of a profound spiritual, emotional, and relational  brokenness that affects far too many of our closest neighbors. Loving our neighbors, then, calls the church to move into this brokenness to both restore those already trapped by addiction and to build a robust, comprehensive disciple-making model that prevents the likelihood of substance abuse and addiction from ever beginning.

3 steps your church can take 

Consider these three steps your church can take to break your community free from the opioid crisis:

1. View substance abuse and addiction as a Great Commission issue.

Spiritual lostness produces brokenness, and too often that brokenness is called addiction. Pastor Robby Gallaty said that many pastors view people with addiction as “those drug heads.” The implication is that those who battle drug addiction exist in a separate category of humanity — perhaps a category Jesus cannot or will not redeem.

Many religious people during Jesus’ ministry viewed the lame, blind, and demon-possessed in a similar way. But Jesus made the most marginalized people in the community central to his ministry offering them both spiritual life and physical healing. 

Our Great Commission mandate means the marginalized are not marginalized in our church or in our ministry. It means we remove the stigma of addiction, and invite those who are suffering to come near. 

It means pastors preach on the subject and that our evangelism training, small group ministry, and disciple making strategy include practical help and lasting hope for every neighbor carrying all kinds of sin and brokenness, including that of substance abuse, addiction, and other mental health challenges. 

2. Respond to substance abuse and addiction in collaboration with community partners.

Local churches should be a place of healing for those who struggle with addiction, but no one church alone can provide all the resources necessary. Some churches offer a recovery program, but not all can. Some churches provide counseling, but not all can. Sometimes the need is acute, and a church is simply not prepared to provide the assistance needed.

But when churches collaborate with other church and community partners, including healthcare providers and social services, they have access to more resources that can help them help their neighbors in crisis.

Through the State of Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, for example, churches can join the network of Recovery Congregations. As a Recovery Congregation, a church agrees to be a place of help and healing. Few churches can do everything, but every church can do something, and in turn connect to other churches and local agencies that offer more specialized assistance. 

In our community, the organization called DrugFree Wilco provides awareness, education, and opportunities for churches and other community groups to serve our vulnerable friends and neighbors well. There could be similar organizations near you. 

As churches walk with people who are struggling with addiction, community partnerships allow us to serve our neighbors more effectively than we ever could alone.

3. Prevent substance abuse and addiction through an incarnational disciple-making strategy.

Much of our efforts related to the opioid epidemic are reactionary. We meet someone struggling with addiction, and we respond by giving practical help and sharing the gospel. That is the correct response, and there will always be a need for us to minister to human needs in this way.

But for long-term progress, perhaps churches can evaluate how we take on the task of disciple making. In addition to teaching the next generation already in our student ministries, perhaps we can consider efforts that prepare, encourage, and send out believers to live as missionaries among people who have not yet attended our church or the programs we offer.

As we root believers in the riches of God’s Word equipping them to make disciples, we can also incentivize them to build significant relationships with neighbors outside of our church.  

I’m honored to lead a coalition of churches working together for the transformation of our community. As we give believers the opportunity to serve in the public schools, in addiction recovery programs, in poverty alleviation initiatives, and in foster care programs, we move God’s people into the public square. These are not programs the church must manage or can always measure, but they help believers live present with people in their brokenness in order to serve, teach, and influence them to follow Jesus with us. 

This incarnational approach to disciple making is less programmatic, and more personal. It’s also less measurable in the short term, but perhaps creates long-term, sustainable transformation for our closest neighbors and in the social structures of our community. 

  • 1
    2021 TN Annual Overdose Report, p. 30
By / Nov 19

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss drug overdose deaths in the U.S., “QAnon Shaman” sentenced to prison, and religious freedom concerns with the Build Back Better Act. They also talk about National Adoption Month, showing hospitality, and preparing for Advent. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Drug overdose deaths in the United States surpassed 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time; President Biden’s statement
  2. “QAnon Shaman” sentenced to 41 months in prison
  3. Churches’ financial status after pandemic 
  4. Religious freedom concerns for faith-based childcare and Build Back Better Act; ERLC article

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  • The Dawn of Redeeming Grace // This episode was sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Dawn of Redeeming Grace .Join Sinclair Ferguson as he opens up the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel in these daily devotions for Advent. Each day’s reflection is full of insight and application and will help you to arrive at Christmas Day awed by God’s redeeming grace and refreshed by the hope of God’s promised King. Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com.
  • Outrageous Justice // God calls us to seek justice. But how should Christians respond? Outrageous Justice, a free small-group study from experts at Prison Fellowship, offers Christians a place to start. Explore the criminal justice system through a biblical lens and discover hands-on ways to pursue justice, hope, and restoration in your community. Get your free copy of Outrageous Justice, featuring a study guide, videos, and a companion book today! Visit prisonfellowship.org/outrageous-justice.
By / Jul 16

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the record number of drug overdose deaths in 2020, Oliva Rodrigo visiting the White House, anti-government protests in Cuba, two religious freedom wins, and the winner of the 2021 All-Star Game. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Andrew Bertodatti with “What is life like in the U.S. for an immigrant: One man’s journey from religious persecution in Pakistan,” Lieryn Barnett with “3 ways to be intentional with your singleness,” and Heather Rice Minus with “A new documentary sheds light on reentry after prison: A New Day 1 covers the hopes and hardships of formerly incarcerated individuals.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. CDC says drug overdose deaths hit record 93,300 in 2020
  2. Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts
  3. Pop star Olivia Rodrigo visits White House to urge young people to get vaccinated against Covid-19
  4. One reported dead in anti-government protests in Cuba
  5. Capitol Hill Baptist Church, D.C. settle religious liberty suit
  6. Appeals court protects church freedom in employment decisions
  7. American League wins 2021 All-Star Game

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  • Love your church: This engaging book by Tony Merida explores what church is, why it’s exciting to be a part of it, and why it’s worthy of our love and commitment. | Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com
By / Mar 18

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Dec 9

One of the well-known reasons people smoke marijuana is to get high and experience the reportedly pleasurable intoxication and euphoria initiated by THC. The hallucinogenic effects are even said to have positive benefits for one’s development as a person, as Motley Crüe sang in their 1994 ode to pot titled Smoke the Sky, “But through time we’ve smoked the sky . . . Compliments the senses, opens up the mind.” But is smoking marijuana a harmless way to expand the mind? Hardly. Marijuana doesn’t open the mind: Evidence indicates marijuana use can damage the brain. 

Why does marijuana affect the brain, and why does it get people high? Marijuana interacts with the reward circuit, a group of structures in the brain that are activated by rewarding or reinforcing stimuli. The reward pathway of the brain is connected to areas of the brain that control behavior and memory. The active component in marijuana that gets someone high is THC, and the brain responds to THC by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine which causes feelings of pleasure.  Smoking pot to trigger the reward circuit can be devastating to one’s life and walk with the Lord and, over time, an addiction can develop. 

All thoughts and pleasures have a biological component. God has created the reward circuit for a purpose. Because we enjoy pleasurable experiences, we are more likely to repeat actions that activate our reward system.1Matthew S. Stanford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Feeling Trapped (Downers Grove, IL: Biblica Books, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 86.  But Christians are called to live holy lives and exercise wise management of life’s pleasures; just because an experience is pleasurable does not necessarily mean it is good. In our fallen condition, we can abuse God’s good gifts—like the reward circuit—for immoral and unholy purposes. 

Marijuana’s effects on the brain

Regular marijuana use has very detrimental effects on the brains of young people, and much of the damage is not reversible. Keep in mind that the human brain continues to develop into the mid-20s. In 2017, 6.5 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 were current users of marijuana. This means that approximately 1.6 million adolescents used marijuana in the past month.2Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 18-5068, NSDUH Series H-53),” https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHFFR2017/NSDUHFFR2017.htm#illicit1. This is concerning because multiple studies using neuroimaging suggest that regular cannabis use during adolescence may lead to structural changes such as altered cortical gray matter development and reduced white matter mylenation.3Robert L. Page, II, et al, “Medical Marijuana, Recreational Cannabis, and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association,” Circulation 142 (August 5, 2020): e14. And the effects of cannabis on the teenage brain continue after a period of abstinence; adolescent cannabis users still showed subtle neuropsychological deficits compared to nonuser after one month’s abstinence. Furthermore, earlier onset of cannabis use was also associated with decreased processing speed and executive function three years later.4A.D. Meruelo, N. Castro, C.I. Cota, and S.F. Tapert, “Cannabis and Alcohol Use, and the Developing Brain,” Behavioral Brain Research 325 (May 15, 2017): 4.  In 2017, the Canadian Psychiatric Association noted that regular cannabis use in youth “can affect aspects of cognition, including attention, memory, processing speed, visuospatial functioning, and overall intelligence.”5Phil Tibbo, Candice Crocker, et al, “Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults: A Position Statement Developed by the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s Research Committee and Approved by the CPA’s Board of Directors on February 17, 2017,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 63.1 (2018): 66.  What this means is that young people who smoke pot are damaging their ability to think clearly and make good decisions. 

Marijuana negatively affects the adult brain too, but the person who starts smoking pot at age 30 doesn’t appear to do as much damage to his brain as someone who starts smoking pot at age 15. This doesn’t mean there are no detrimental consequences for adults who smoke marijuana. One European study from 2019 found that people who used cannabis daily had an increased odds of psychotic disorder compared with never users, and the risk rose to nearly five-times increased odds for daily use of high-potency cannabis.6Marta Di Forti, et al, “The Contribution of Cannabis use to Variation in the Incidence of Psychotic Disorder Across Europe (EU-GEI): A Multicentre Case-Control Study,” Lancet Psychiatry 6 (2019): 427 – 436. The risk for psychotic disorders increases with frequency of use, potency of the marijuana product, and as the age at first use decreases.

The path to addiction

Related to marijuana’s negative effects on the brain is the possibility of addiction. One piece of urban legend about marijuana is that it doesn’t affect the brain in the same way as harder drugs, so you shouldn’t be as worried about addiction to marijuana as to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or other illicit drugs. To be clear, the effects of cocaine and heroin addiction are more severe than marijuana. But marijuana affects the reward circuit similarly to other common drugs of abuse. It is very likely that repeated exposures to marijuana results in neuroadaptations, not only to the reward circuit, but also to downstream targets that are critically involved in the development of drug addiction.7Erik B. Oleson and Joseph F. Cheer, “A Brain on Cannabinoids: The Role of Dopamine Release in Reward-Seeking,” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives In Medicine 2.8 (August 2012): 10. This means the effects of marijuana on the brain are more complex and far-reaching than most people think. 

Approximately 9% of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted. But the percentage of those who become addicted is much higher for those who start using during adolescence, with one in six teenagers who use pot eventually becoming addicted. Additionally, 25% – 50% of those who smoke marijuana daily will reach clinical criteria for addiction.8Nora D. Volkow, Ruben D. Baier, Wilson M. Compton, and Susan R.B. Weiss, “Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use,” New England Journal of Medicine 370.23 (June 5, 2014): 1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827335/pdf/nihms762992.pdf It should also be emphasized that the DSM V lists Cannabis Use Disorder as one of its diagnoses. 

A Christian should be a good steward of the brain God has given each of us, and a Christian’s life should be consumed by doing the Lord’s will, not being obsessed with the next high. 

Romans 13:12 says, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” One way we lay aside the deeds of darkness is by not smoking pot. Marijuana negatively affects the brain, and the damage done to adolescent brains is often irreversible. People do become addicted to marijuana, and Christians should not place ourselves in the position of becoming drug addicts. No one who experiments with drugs or alcohol believes he or she will experience the destructive effects of addiction. 

That’s because addiction doesn’t happen overnight, but experimentation and recreational use slowly increase until addiction becomes an all-encompassing way of life. A Christian should be a good steward of the brain God has given each of us, and a Christian’s life should be consumed by doing the Lord’s will, not being obsessed with the next high. 

  • 1
    Matthew S. Stanford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Feeling Trapped (Downers Grove, IL: Biblica Books, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 86. 
  • 2
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 18-5068, NSDUH Series H-53),” https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHFFR2017/NSDUHFFR2017.htm#illicit1.
  • 3
    Robert L. Page, II, et al, “Medical Marijuana, Recreational Cannabis, and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association,” Circulation 142 (August 5, 2020): e14.
  • 4
    A.D. Meruelo, N. Castro, C.I. Cota, and S.F. Tapert, “Cannabis and Alcohol Use, and the Developing Brain,” Behavioral Brain Research 325 (May 15, 2017): 4. 
  • 5
    Phil Tibbo, Candice Crocker, et al, “Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults: A Position Statement Developed by the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s Research Committee and Approved by the CPA’s Board of Directors on February 17, 2017,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 63.1 (2018): 66. 
  • 6
    Marta Di Forti, et al, “The Contribution of Cannabis use to Variation in the Incidence of Psychotic Disorder Across Europe (EU-GEI): A Multicentre Case-Control Study,” Lancet Psychiatry 6 (2019): 427 – 436. The risk for psychotic disorders increases with frequency of use, potency of the marijuana product, and as the age at first use decreases.
  • 7
    Erik B. Oleson and Joseph F. Cheer, “A Brain on Cannabinoids: The Role of Dopamine Release in Reward-Seeking,” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives In Medicine 2.8 (August 2012): 10.
  • 8
    Nora D. Volkow, Ruben D. Baier, Wilson M. Compton, and Susan R.B. Weiss, “Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use,” New England Journal of Medicine 370.23 (June 5, 2014): 1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827335/pdf/nihms762992.pdf
By / May 21

For Terri, a mother of five from Wisconsin, life as she knew it began to unravel after her son, Curtis*, broke his collarbone. The high schooler received prescription opioids after a skiing accident in the early 2000s. This was long before President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and long before the public understood how dangerous and addictive opioids are. But it wasn’t long at all before Curtis was hooked.

One day at school, 17-year-old Curtis was found with pills in his pocket. The police came and arrested him. Before long, he was sentenced to six months in a correctional facility. 

Terri was devastated. As a mom, she says, “You're dying because you know your kid is sitting [in prison], and who knows what is going on in there. It's never the same, life is never the same. It's almost like somebody died, but they didn't. They're buried alive. That's all I can tell you. It's like they're buried alive.”  

A hidden epidemic

At first, Terri was shocked at the speed with which her son went from a typical high schooler to a prisoner. But over time, Terri would find Curtis’ story increasingly commonplace. She realized that Curtis and others like him were being swept up in a wave of overcriminalization that put people suffering with addiction behind bars. 

After a string of arrests for possession of controlled substances, Curtis is 33 and completing his most recent prison time, which stems for a sentence dating back to 2008, though Terri notes he has had no new charges or cases since then. In the last decade and a half, prison has proven to be an unhelpful response to his issues with opioid addiction.

Simple possession of a controlled substance doesn’t have to result in lengthy incarceration or a lifelong criminal record. In fact, cases like Curtis’ don’t even have the same result in every state. 

The complex problem of simple possession

The Drug Report: A Review of America’s Disparate Possession Penalties, prepared by criminal justice policy experts at Prison Fellowship®, reveals the broad discrepancies in penalties for possession of commonly abused drugs across different jurisdictions and explores the resulting public policy challenges. 

It’s a critical time to discuss these challenges, because as Terri knows all too well, each sentence affects not only people dealing with addictions, but their families, too.

While charges for drug possession remain in the criminal system, we believe (and research shows) that sentences should fit the crime, and there should be a reliance on accountability programs that are demonstrated to decrease drug use. This approach aims to break the cycle of recidivism (people returning to prison) by addressing circumstances like addiction and administering appropriate consequences.

We say this knowing that incarceration doesn’t achieve the goal of rehabilitation and reducing substance use. That’s why we support the use of alternatives to incarceration, such as drug courts. Most Americans agree.

The need for alternatives

In September 2019, Prison Fellowship commissioned a Barna Group poll to find out what Christians think about incarceration and justice. We found that almost one in three Americans and practicing Christians agree strongly that judges should have the latitude to assign alternative forms of punishment when sentencing. 

Some jurisdictions have implemented alternative punishment models for possession crimes, such as opioid courts. These programs, along with traditional methods, should be studied in order to see what works best and how to improve outcomes for the participating individual and impacted community. 

Each human life is created in the image of God, with eternal value and the capacity for redemption. And the onus is on all those who make criminal justice policy decisions to evaluate methods of proportional accountability for possession crimes. They should be evaluating which methods offer the best outcomes for public safety, recovery from addiction, stronger families, and opportunities for personal and community restoration. 

Raise awareness

While Terri’s son Curtis is still in prison, she has turned her pain into passion. She serves as an Angel Tree® area coordinator to help other families impacted by incarceration. And as a Prison Fellowship Justice Ambassador, she works hard to raise awareness in her community and get lawmakers to change the way our nation handles drug abuse. She is determined to see something good come from the pain she and her family have experienced.

“The sentence seems never-ending,” she says, “but God is good. He will use this for His glory someday.”

Terri worked hard to raise her own awareness of drug laws and justice reform so she could inform others. If you want to increase your own understanding of drug possession laws, download The Drug Report. And read our Barna survey to learn more about Christians’ views on criminal justice. 

*A pseudonym for the protection of his privacy.

By / Mar 6

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Nov 6

President Trump recently signed into law HR 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. This bipartisan legislation includes almost 200 provisions to provide for opioid use disorder prevention, recovery, and treatment.

The legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 393-8 in September and the Senate by a vote of 98-1 in October, reportedly represents the largest legislative effort to combat a single drug crisis in U.S. history.

“This bipartisan legislation brings critical support to the communities most desperately in need,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Walden’s (R-OR). “[The Act] provides new tools and resources for those on the ground in this fight, and helps stop the flow of deadly drugs across our borders.”

“Rarely can we say that legislation will save lives,” added Walden, “but there is no doubt that this bill will do just that.”

Here are a few key provisions under each of the legislation’s eight main sections:

Title I—Medicaid Provisions to Address the Opioid Crisis

• Requires state Medicaid programs to suspend, as opposed to terminate, a juvenile’s medical assistance eligibility when a juvenile is incarcerated, and requires states to ensure that former foster youth are able to keep their Medicaid coverage across state lines until the age of 26.

• State Medicaid programs are now required to have safety edits in place for opioid refills, monitor concurrent prescribing of opioids and certain other drugs, and monitor antipsychotic prescribing for children.

• Directs the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue guidance on states’ options for treating and managing beneficiaries’ pain through non-opioid pain treatment and management options under Medicaid.

Title II—Medicare Provisions to Address the Opioid Crisis

• Expands the use of telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries for the treatment of substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders.

• Increases screening for opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders among Medicare beneficiaries, during Medicare wellness and preventive care visits, facilitating early detection and treatment.

• Deters prescription fraud and the diversion of opioids through the use of e-prescribing for opioids.

• Expands Medicare coverage to include Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) for the purposes of delivering Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to expand access to treatment options for Medicare beneficiaries.

Title III—FDA and Controlled Substance Provisions

• Requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to hold at least one public meeting to address the challenges and barriers of developing nonaddictive medical products intended to treat pain or addiction, and issue new, or update existing, guidance documents

• Clarifies FDA’s authority to require drug manufacturers to package certain opioids to allow for a set treatment duration, for example, a blister pack with a 3 or 7-day supply and takes into consideration patients with functional limitations.

• Increases the number of waivered health care providers that can prescribe or dispense medication-assisted treatment (MAT) by authorizing clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and certified registered nurse anesthetists to prescribe MAT for five years.

• Updates federal law to allow for implantable or injectable controlled substances for the purposes of maintenance or detoxification treatment to be delivered by a pharmacy to an administering practitioner while maintaining proper controls, such as storage and record keeping.

Title IV—Offsets

• Requires reporting by group health plans of prescription drug coverage information for purposes of identifying primary payer situations under the Medicare program.

Title V—Other Medicaid Provisions

• Requires state Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) to cover mental health benefits, including substance use disorder services for eligible pregnant women and children.

• Requires Medicaid providers to check relevant prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) before prescribing a Schedule II controlled substance.

• Provides state Medicaid programs with the option to cover care in certain Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD), which may be otherwise non-federally reimbursable.

Title VI—Other Medicare Provisions

• Promotes the testing of incentive payments for behavioral health providers for adoption and use of certified electronic health record technology through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).

• Establishes an action plan, including studies, HHS-authored reports to Congress, and meetings with stakeholders, for the purpose of addressing the opioid crisis.

• Provides grants to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) to help offset the cost of training providers to dispense medications for treatment of opioid use disorder.

Title VII—Public Health Provisions

• Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the U.S. Surgeon General, to submit a report to Congress on the public health effects of the rise in synthetic drug use among adolescents and young adults in order to further educate parents and the medical community on the health effects of synthetics.

• Expands a grant program authorized by the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was designed to allow first responders to administer a drug or device, like naloxone, to treat an opioid overdose, to include training on safety around fentanyl, carfentanil, and other dangerous licit and illicit drugs.

• Directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a public information dashboard linking to HHS programs and publicly available data related to opioid and other substance use disorders.

• Requires HHS, in consultation with the Attorney General (AG), to submit to Congress a report on the impact of federal and state laws and regulations that limit the length, quantity, or dosage of opioid prescriptions

• Requires the Secretary to issue a report to Congress offering recommendations for pain management practices during pregnancy and for prevention, identification, and reduction of opioid and other substance use disorders during pregnancy.

• Provides resources for hospitals and other entities to develop protocols on discharging patients who have presented with an opioid overdose.

Title VIII—Miscellaneous

• Directs the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Postmaster General, in coordination with the heads of other Federal agencies as appropriate, to collaborate to identify and develop technology that will improve the detection of synthetic opioids, as well as other narcotics and psychoactive substances, entering the United States by mail.

• Makes it illegal to knowingly and willfully pay or receive kickbacks in return for referring a patient to a recovery home or clinical treatment facilities.

• Reauthorizes the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Free Communities program, and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program.

By / Sep 19

When I met my mother-in-law for the first time, her toothless smile, poverty-stricken trailer, and hard-worn wrinkles, visually confirmed the preconceived notions I had developed about her. She was a matriarch symbol of the ailment of our nation’s time—drug addiction.

She was the woman who chose bottles of Jim Beam, bags of white powder, and abusive men over her children. She abandoned them at home for days at a time when they were barely out of toddlerhood, left them idling in cars while she traded sexual favors for a warm night in a hotel on Christmas Eve. She put them in grave danger, inviting questionable strangers into her bed, her addictions controlling her every move. Even as court orders and arrests got her to rehab every few years, the behavior therapy never worked.

She had done it to herself, but she was also lost in a situation of limited hope where mental illness and lack of opportunity, community, and faith created the perfect storm for her to fester in her addictions.

The childhood my husband survived was cluttered with neglect, abuse, and fear. And it’s a childhood too many are living out today due to the drug crisis ravaging small towns and big cities alike. The uptick of children in foster care is heartbreaking, the death tolls of their parents rising to levels of unspeakable tragedy.

No quick fixes

Important people talk about “solving” the opioid crisis like it’s a puzzle, like if we just get the right pieces in place, we’ll be able to save people from themselves. Billions of dollars and thousands of words, bolstered by the best of intentions, are written within a massive new, bipartisanly supported bill to address the growing epidemic. It passed in June almost unanimously and is predicted to pass the Senate in similar fashion.

Opioid addiction is spoken of like a cancer, like something that’s unstoppable or put upon someone without their participation in the act. Yet, the spiritual aspect of this ailment needs to be addressed, too. Though it certainly takes on a physical form, where does it begin, and what makes someone latch on to the numbing balm of drugs and alcohol? There are no easy answers.

I’m glad our public officials are addressing opioid addiction. Congress should be taking this seriously, but the responsibility does not lie with the government alone. This is an issue that also has to be solved by people, community, purpose, and faith. Otherwise we will fail many of the most affected individuals.

The church’s role

The church has been stepping in at this time of crisis, and we need even more of that as we battle a national illness that has no simple remedy. Church planting is one key to attacking the problem from all angles, and John Freed, pastor of Waterline, an Indiana church committed to church planting as a mission, affirmed this is part of the way he’s seeing it tackled in the state.

“Churches are on the leading edge of nonprofits that are making a difference for people in recovery,” he said in a phone interview. “I know that, for a fact, in our county, if you enter recovery, it’s probably affiliated with a church.”

While mega-churches still gain media attention, the majority of churchgoers attend churches of 500 or less, with 46 percent attending a church of 100 or less, according to Barna research. Even—and especially—in these small settings, the church can truly love and support those who are struggling. The importance of church planting in very concentrated areas can and will make a difference.

According to Lifeway research, the American church is now opening churches faster than it is closing them—and 42 percent of those worshipping at churches launched since 2008 previously never attended church or hadn't attended in many years. It’s clear there is a strong desire for church, and there is no doubt that areas affected by the opioid crisis are included in that.

Don’t forget the small towns

Church planting expert and director of the Billy Graham Center Ed Stetzer has noted that many church plants are focused on urban areas as more people move to the cities—but we musn’t forget those in smaller towns. These are the towns like my husband grew up in, where addiction and dead-end jobs, generational family dysfunction and poverty breed cycles of despair with little light to guide someone unfortunate enough to be born into it.

Blame for today’s drug crisis is tossed around like a hot potato. The blame is toxic, but it’s not serving to help people like my mother-in-law. Had she been reached by a greater, deeper good 30 years ago—one also focused on the root(s) of the issue rather than one of access—maybe she could have gained the purpose she needed or saved her children from experiencing the traumas that will haunt them for a lifetime. God calls us not only to the nations but to our neighbors and where the need is most potent. In America today, that need is magnified in the form of opioid overdoses.

When The Washington Post published a powerful series of stories last year about families dealing with addiction issues, it overwhelmingly illustrated that these people weren’t simply random casualties of failed government, but also self-destructive, hopeless, and lonely. It’s the spiritual and personal side that government simply cannot address in a tangible way. That takes people. That takes churches. That takes sacrifice, inconvenience, compassion, and discomfort for friends, family, and community.

The need for the church in our local communities, it seems, has never been so palpable. As Christians, it is our responsibility to love our drug-addicted neighbors. We should participate in our local churches and partner with government initiatives. And we ought to do more than read the headlines. In God’s strength, we must go make a difference in the lives of those in our communities.

Join the ERLC in Dallas on October 11-13 for the Cross-Shaped Family. This conference is designed to equip families to see that all of our family stories are shaped by the ultimate story of our lives, the gospel. Speakers include Russell Moore, Jen Wilkin, Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, Ray Ortlund, Beth Moore, Jamie Ivey, and many more. Register to attend today!

By / Aug 24

Recent surveys show that about six-in-ten Americans (61 percent) say the use of marijuana should be legalized. Along with the increase in permissive attitudes and legislation involving marijuana, there is an increase in the perception that the drug is harmless and is non-addictive.

The reality is that the rise in the prevalence of marijuana use—usage more than doubled between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013—has led to a large increase in marijuana use disorders.

“Cannabis is potentially a real public-health problem,” Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University, recently told The Atlantic. “It wasn’t obvious to me 25 years ago, when 9 percent of self-reported cannabis users over the last month reported daily or near-daily use. I always was prepared to say, ‘No, it’s not a very abusable drug. Nine percent of anybody will do something stupid.’ But that number is now [something like] 40 percent.”

Here are five facts you should know about the rising problem of marijuana addiction:

1. The terms marijuana and cannabis refer to all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., including the seeds, the resin extracted from any part of such plan, and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds, or resin. Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal psychoactive substance worldwide, and the most abused drug in the U.S. with an estimated 4 million Americans either dependent on cannabis or abusing the drug. (The current prevalence of abuse is 1.13 percent, while the prevalence for dependence is 0.32 percent.) While not all marijuana users experience problems, nearly 3 of 10 marijuana users manifested a marijuana use disorder in 2012-2013.

2. Addiction to cannabis or marijuana is known as Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD). The diagnostic criteria for CUD, found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is a problematic pattern of use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, manifested by at least 2 of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

 • The substance is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.

 • Persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use.

 • Great deal of time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of cannabis.

 • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use cannabis.

 • Recurrent use resulting in failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home.

 • Continued use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused by or exacerbated by the effects of use.

 • Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of use.

 • Recurrent use in situations that could be physically hazardous.

 • Continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem caused by or exacerbated by use.

 • Need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieved intoxication or desired effect; or diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.

 • Characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance (see below); or the substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

3. In 2016, 2.3 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 (about 584,000 adolescents) had a marijuana use disorder in the past year. Approximately 1.7 million young adults aged 18 to 25—or 5.0 percent of young adults—and a similar number of adults aged 26 or older—approximately 1.7 million adults aged 26 or older or 0.8 percent of adults in this age group—also had a marijuana use disorder within the past year.

4. Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses—the higher the use the greater the risk. The evidence also suggests that any cannabis use is related with increased suicidal ideation (i.e., suicidal thoughts or preoccupation with suicide), augmented suicide attempts, and greater risk of death by suicide. Studies reveal that heavy cannabis use (used 40 or more times) is associated with a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. Additionally, heavy cannabis use is associated with cognitive impairment, lower educational attainment, and unemployment.

5. Currently, there is no treatment that has been proven effective for CUD. While some psychosocial interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, have demonstrated the ability to reduce cannabis use, although abstinence rates remain modest and decline after treatment. There are no therapies using pharmaceutical drugs approved for the treatment of CUD. Some drugs have shown limited positive effects on use and withdrawal symptoms, but no controlled studies have been able to show strong and persistent effects on clinically meaningful outcomes.