In the last few years we have all seen an increase in news stories about the growing opioid crisis in America. It’s a terrible scourge affecting thousands of families throughout the country. Too many of its victims are young people.
This is not a hardship of only urban areas, its reach is just as wide and as deadly in our suburban and rural communities. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on October 12th that in Camden County drug related deaths have soared 107 percent in the first half of this year and in Gloucester County, 56 percent. These numbers are similar across other counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well.
Many of our pastors report celebrating funeral Masses for as many as five overdose deaths per month, just related to opioids.
It’s a tragic and gut-wrenching addiction. And one not easily overcome. And like all cases of abuse, it not only affects the abuser, but their family and friends.
You may ask, how is drug addiction recovery a spiritual concern? As we know, anything that becomes a barrier between a person and their healthy self, their loved ones, and God is a concern of the Church.
With this in mind, I’ve asked our pastors, along with Catholic Charities, to begin focusing on how we can provide addiction counseling services in as many communities as possible. While there are many professionals who can work with the actual addictions, often times the emotional and spiritual support is underutilized.
This is not new, many well-established addiction recovery programs utilize faith as a tenet of their process. However, as our secular culture has become desensitized to the trauma of drug abuse or recoils from support beyond that of institutional care, we as Catholics must be willing to offer our concern and our comfort in tangible ways.
This kind of support is integral to helping families as they come to grips with the understanding that drug addiction is a lifetime affliction. Once rehabilitation services have been completed, the task of remaining clean and sober begins. Families need help to heal from the pain and conflicts caused by a loved one’s substance use and help everyone begin to reestablish trust.
I encourage all Catholics to look for ways to help these families gripped with the pain of addiction. We are a community who helps one another, who is there for one another when the time is darkest, and who supports each other not one time, not seven times, but seventy times seven times, as Jesus has taught us.
Bishop of Camden