Half of Protestant pastors say a member of their congregation has been personally affected by opioid abuse, according to a survey released Nov. 19 by LifeWay Research.
Of 1,000 senior pastors, ministers or priests interviewed by phone, 66 percent said a family member of someone in their congregation has been personally affected by opioid abuse, while 55 percent say they know of someone outside the church who is struggling with opioids.
Fifty-two percent said misuse of opioids affects a member of their church, while just 23 percent said they don’t personally know anyone affected by opioid abuse.
Knowledge of abuse is more prevalent in churches located in the Northeast than the Midwest and West, and pastors of churches smaller than 50 members are least likely to encounter the problem.
Baptists and pastors in the Christian Church/United Church of Christ tradition are more likely to know a church member is affected by opioid abuse than Lutherans and those in the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and others.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief they can be misused. Regular use – even as prescribed by a doctor – can lead to dependence, and taking them in larger doses than prescribed or without a prescription can lead to addiction, overdose incidents and deaths.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists says more than 2 million Americans abuse opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 400,000 people have died from an opioid overdose in the past 20 years.
The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 2018 urging pastors and other church leaders to be aware of the dangers of opioid abuse and “equip followers of Christ to resist the temptation to assume they are immune from this temptation.”
The resolution called on churches to “demonstrate grace toward the addict and hope for recovery that individuals might prosper and flourish” and “provide gospel ministry to those in their communities affected by opioid abuse.”
According to LifeWay Research, 82 percent of Protestant pastors say they offer spiritual support such as prayer and discipleship to serve people with opioid addiction. Around half offer physical support such as food, shelter or clothing, and 40 percent offer a 12-step program or other support group for substance abuse.
While Baptists are above average in knowing someone affected by opioid abuse, they are among the least likely to offer a 12-step or other substance-abuse program.