Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
A Response to the Addiction Epidemic
Time Magazine recently declared: “The opioid crisis is the worst addiction epidemic in U.S. history.” Consider this staggering contrast of statistics: 58,000 U.S. soldiers lost their lives during the Vietnam War, while today in this country we lose 64,000 people every year to drug overdoses. It is an insidious problem that affects people and families from all backgrounds and walks of life.
A few months ago, Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, shared details of his pastoral response to the opioid crisis in an article for Erie’s diocesan magazine. Bishop Persico wrote, “Each situation comes down to a single person, precious in God’s eyes, suffering from addiction. That anguish quickly extends to family members, friends and loved ones who feel helpless in the face of this monster.”
Bishop Persico acknowledged that priests of his diocese now find themselves called to minister to those struggling with addiction, as well as parishioners touched by the crisis in their families, social circles, and in the workplace. Most tragic of all, they have had to offer funeral Masses for those who have lost their battle with addiction. He set up a task force last summer to prepare clergy for dealing with this growing crisis, and his priests now have access to information about ministering to those with addiction. They have literature to disseminate in their parishes, and they know where to direct people for professional and clinical help in battling this disease.
Bishop Persico assured members of his diocese that they are not alone. He wrote, “I want to challenge all of us to be merciful to those who are affected by this crisis. In so many cases, the victims were ensnared through perfectly innocent means – legal prescriptions for injuries or post-op pain. They represent all demographics: young and old; wealthy, middle-class and poor; male and female; rural and urban. Those who are addicted may feel abandoned by their families and may be painfully aware of the grief and sorrow they have caused.”
The Northern Illinois Catholic magazine The Connection recently addressed the importance of overcoming stereotypes of addiction and mental illness, stereotypes that invariably lead to the misguided perception that those suffering from these problems are inherently dangerous and deranged. This stigmatization only causes people to hide their problems and prevents them from getting help early and often.
Our Christopher News Notes Recovery from Addiction through God and Service and Mental Illness: Healing the Unseen Wounds both help to guide people beyond the boundaries of stigmatization to a discovery of the true path to healing. Our News Note on addiction touches on the story of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. At the height of his swimming career, Phelps struggled with depression and addiction. While in rehab, a friend gave him a copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. The book, Phelps says, “turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”
Thank God for Michael Phelps’ courage in sharing his story and helping to shatter the misconception that addiction only affects the marginalized of society. It is through that example of leadership, combined with the kind of outreach put in place by Bishop Persico, that our nation will find a path to healing. Openness about suffering is the key to building a culture of mercy and can help us to finally come together and guide each other to that higher purpose we are all called to pursue in this world.
For free copies of the Christopher News Notes on ADDICTION and/or MENTAL ILLNESS write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org