The Opioid Pandemic - Part 2

By John Athanasatos, PharmD, MDiv.

The First Affected Group:
Current and Recovering Addicts

My first article on the opioid pandemic was an introduction describing how the opioid crisis became a pandemic, who is affected by it and what the Orthodox Christian faithful could do to help alleviate this problem.  I mentioned we need to categorize those affected by it into three groups: 1) current and recovering addicts, 2) family and friends of addicts and recovering addicts, and 3) healthcare professionals who engage with the former and the latter.  I would like to take the opportunity in this article to address specifically the first group of people: the addicts and those in recovery.  For those who are addicts but have not sought help yet, they are in a vulnerable state that unfortunately could cost them their lives.  We hope by God’s Grace they will come to realize that they have a problem and will seek help.

Why addicts do not seek help


Because of the difficulty of this addiction they might want help but perhaps out of embarrassment, pride, fear or denial they are not seeking help.  This is an opportunity for friends, family who interact with such individuals to have the courage in a living, caring Christian way to approach that person and offer them a solution.  For the recovering addict, half the battle has been won.  They have at least identified that they have a problem and have sought help.  Yet they are still vulnerable but very much in remission and hopefully with the proper support: 12 Step Program, Narcotics Anonymous.  The first 12 Twelve Step Program, Alcoholics Anonymous, was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio.  Narcotics Anonymous, started years later and was founded by Jimmy Kinnon in 1953 in California.  It is also a 12 Step Program that employs the 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, the same as AA and other addiction recovery groups.  Although completion of all 12 Steps and Traditions is the goal, the first three Steps are the most essential, critical and possibly hardest

The 12 Step Program for opioid addicts, Narcotics Anonymous, the first three steps being the hardest

At the First Step, the person acknowledges that they are powerless over their addiction and their lives have become unmanageable.  The Second Step, the addict realizes that a power greater than he or she will restore him or her to sanity.  The Third Step, the addict acknowledges that he/she has made a decision to turn his/her will and life over to the care of God as he/she understands Him.  These steps are powerful and certainly aligned with Orthodox tradition.  The message of the Third Step we hear in the 12 Gospel readings on Holy Thursday evening. “Into Thy hands I commit my Spirit” (Lk 23:46 NKJV).  Jesus, the Son said this to the Father on the Cross just before he died.  We also recite something similar in our evening prayers before bed: Into Your hands I commend my soul and body.  Bless me, have mercy on me, and grant me life eternal, AMEN.  So at the first step, pride is crushed and humility is obtained.  At the second step the addict’s humility allows him/her to acknowledge a higher power.  For us as Orthodox Christians it is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the realization to seek HIM for help because only He can restore him or her.  Now at the Third Step the addict starts to say those immortal words: Into Thy hands I commit my Spirit or Thy will be done which we hear as part of the Lord’s Prayer.  Now the addict is ready to ascend through the rest of the 12 steps.  Thus the goal with all 12 Steps/Traditions Programs is to obtain sobriety.  It is not to become religious or spiritual, however that usually happens inadvertently.  It is usual once the addict acquires and maintains sobriety that he or she also acquires a stronger spirituality. 

Even once an addict achieves sobriety it is crucial that he/she continues to go to meetings in order to keep spiritually strong and keep free of any addictive substance that once nearly claimed his/her life.  So for how long must one go?  When have they fully overcome their addiction?  The answer: Until Christ be formed in you (Galatians 4:19 NKJV).  This is the ultimate goal.

An Example for the addict is the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)


Perhaps one of the greatest parables from the Bible that an addict has as an example is the Parable of the Prodigal Son which we hear on the second Sunday of the Lenten Triodion.  A man had two sons and the younger one decided one day that he wanted his inheritance in advance. Shortly after his father gave it to him, he journeyed far away and wasted his inheritance on reckless living until all his money was gone.  A famine arose in that land and he became hungry, so hungry that he would even eat the pods that the swine ate but even that was not offered to him.  In those days, in Semitic culture it was taboo for a Jew to go anywhere near swine, never mind feed them or want their food.  Obviously the son was extremely desperate.  At this precise time the son’s pride started to break down and humility began to manifest itself. He started to realize that even his father’s servants had it better than what he had at this moment.  So he decided to return back to his father and ask for his forgiveness and to take him back, even as one of his servants.

While still a distance away, the father saw him, had compassion on him and ran to him, embraced him and kissed him.  Instead of punishing his son for what he did, he ordered his servants to clothe the son with the best robe available and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. The father put together a great feast to honor his son’s return which offended the other son who was obedient and loyal to the father.  The father responded to the other son: Your brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.

Likewise, once the addict acknowledges his or her addiction and humbles himself/herself to know that he/she is powerless and turns to Christ for restoration, He is gladly waiting for his/her return.  Indeed, that person who was dead is now alive, was lost and is now found.