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BY TIMOTHY MCMAHAN KING

March 10, 2019


Editor's note: This is the first in a special series of reflections on the opioid crisis. 
You’ve probably seen headlines about the opioid crisis. It’s tragic. 

But here are a few things to keep in mind about what the media often gets wrong. (Spoiler alert: a lot of coverage is racist.) 
“Death has come up into our windows,
    it has entered our palaces,
to cut off the children from the streets
    and the young men from the squares.” -- Jeremiah 9:21
Seventy-two thousand people died in 2017 from accidental drug overdoses. The majority of those were opioid-related. 

Those aren’t just numbers for me. 

Nearly ten years ago, what should have been a routine procedure left me in the ICU for weeks, hospital for months and out of work for almost a year. The heavy doses of opioids I was sent home with weren’t just about the pain anymore. I was addicted. My doctor let me know I was.

But I was lucky. My doctor was compassionate and understanding. They moved me into an alternative pain therapy program and helped me step down from pain meds over time. There were bumps along the way, twists and turns, but with lots of support and some good counseling, I am in recovery.  

In the grand scheme of things, my addiction was relatively mild, and the negative consequences were mitigated. For years, I never talked about the experience because I didn’t need to and didn’t see any reason to. 

But the deaths keep climbing.
Racist drug laws persist.
Those struggling with addiction are shamed and stigmatized. 
Heroin and fentanyl are used to incite anti-immigrant sentiment. 
Pharmaceutical companies have gotten off easy.

We have a president who declares a “national emergency” and then pushes policies that will only make the crisis worse and blocks programs that help. 

I needed to speak out. I didn’t recover just because of my own strength but because of what I had been given. 

Over the next few months, I want to share with you some of the history of how we got here, the myths that are holding us back and what we can do to resist. It is not just bad policies but also bad theology that creates environments where addiction and shame grow and thrive. 

We need to take a hard look at what the opioid crisis reveals about us. 
Check out the new book Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us, available for preorder. 
God, grant us the courage to look the opioid crisis square in the face. Move us to deep reflection, and then to collective action together. In all we do, may we seek to follow you and your calling to social justice. Mold us into your hands and feet in the public square. Amen. 
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