“We can’t just keep reviving people.” Even among the many tragic and shocking stories of the opioid addiction and overdose crisis, a statement as stark as this stands out. Larry Mulligan Jr., the mayor of Middletown, Ohio, was quoted in The Washington Post (July 15) speaking about the frustration felt by first responders who are often reviving the same people from overdose over and over again. He concluded, “We have to address solutions.”
We can’t just keep reviving people.
It is worth remembering that the problem of repeated revivals of the same overdose victims is itself a kind of progress, made possible by the availability of drugs like naloxone that allow the effects of an overdose to be rapidly reversed. Yet these medications introduce new problems, from the ballooning cost of this antidote to the question of how to care for people beyond the moment of revival itself.
Some of these challenges require policy changes, like limits on extreme price increases for life-saving drugs. Some providers of naloxone have doubled their prices over the last year; one company has increased the price of an injectable version by more than 600 percent. As the cost of saving lives with naloxone begins to put serious financial strain on local governments, state and federal legislators and regulators must ask if limits on profiteering during a public health crisis are necessary.
The pastoral challenges are just as pressing. According to Sally Satel, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, an estimated 2.5 million Americans abuse or are addicted to opioids. Communities must move beyond simply stopping an overdose in progress. A number of bishops, including J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., of Vancouver, Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., of Hamilton, Ontario, and Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg, Pa., have recently issued pastoral letters on the church’s response to the opioid epidemic. Archbishop Miller wrote that “Jesus would identify himself with those afflicted by mental illness and addiction.”
Catholic Charities has also been on the front lines of the opioid crisis, offering a range of services for addicts and their families and helping to lead community responses. Along with offering social services and educational programs, the church also has a vital role to play in mustering the spiritual energy necessary to respond to the pain and despair that is often at the root of addiction. Whether from the pulpit, in faith-sharing groups or at coffee hour after Mass, parishes should lead the effort to share and understand the experiences of those struggling with addiction, so that we can learn how to offer them not just revival but hope.