The Opioid Pandemic - Part 4
By John Athanasatos, PharmD, MDiv.
In previous articles, I discussed the Opioid Pandemic and how there are three categories of people affected by this crisis. There are addicts and recovering addicts who will benefit greatly by the 12 Step Program called Narcotics Anonymous. The people in the second group are the friends and family of the addicts and recovering addicts. There is a 12 Step Program that could offer help for them also, called Nar-Anon. Alternatively, the same people could benefit from support groups and individual therapy and counseling not necessarily in a 12 Step format.
The third group that I will discuss in this article is that of the healthcare professionals who have interaction with addicts and recovering addicts on a daily basis and also with their friends and families. For healthcare workers there currently are no known support groups or discussion groups specifically for them. This is definitely an opportunity for the Orthodox communities to offer such programs.
McKesson and Mallinckrodt are two US drug manufacturers dealing with criminal drug rings, and/or making medications more addictive so that sales would rise and stay high.
Healthcare workers belonging to an Orthodox community face many moral and ethical challenges, especially in recent times with this massive opioid crisis which has claimed over 200,000 lives and counting. A few months ago on an episode of 60 Minutes, a retired DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) Agent admitted on national television that McKesson, the largest pharmaceutical distributor in the United States, was heavily involved in the opioid crisis and ultimately “too big to prosecute.” DEA Investigators said that McKesson was supplying pharmacies and doctors that were fronts for criminal drug rings and pills were ending up on the black market. McKesson was also raising the threshold allowances for independent pharmacies so that they could in turn dispense more narcotic painkillers. Also, drug manufacturers like Mallinckrodt were making narcotic medications like oxycodone more addictive so that sales would rise and stay high.
Hearing all of this, how can the Orthodox healthcare workers feel comfortable at their workplace, especially pharmacists who dispense these medications? It certainly becomes a spiritual dilemma for them, to see hundreds of thousands of people dying and knowing that drug manufacturers and distributors are behind it. This crisis affects all people despite their socioeconomic, racial or religious background. It is troubling to see the healthcare industry motivated by financial gain and not the well-being of people.
So what can we do as a community? More awareness of this crisis and its magnitude is the first step. The second step would be to offer some sort of discussion or support group at local parishes. It is important to offer that fellowship so that healthcare workers have the opportunity to share their experiences and reflect on the challenges they face. These may be very unusual and trying times but by God’s grace any challenge and hardship can be overcome. The most important thing for Orthodox healthcare workers to remember is that the more they hold to their ethics and morals, the greater the challenges they will face. Christ clearly warned us of this: Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak: for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Mt 10:16-20 NKJV)
These words were directed towards His disciples, as Jesus knew they would face persecution, even death as they went out into the world preaching His Name. Let this be a motivation not only to healthcare workers but for all of us. It is both saddening as well as scary to hear about the demise in the healthcare industry. Perhaps there are other stories similar to the one about McKesson that plague the industry. However, we must not despair. Trials and tribulations will certainly come but we as Orthodox Christians must be prepared for them and be determined to overcome them.
Preparing Students in Colleges or in other Programs to become Healthcare Workers
I think it is also important to prepare students who are in colleges or programs preparing to become healthcare workers for the challenges that they will face once they enter the workforce. At colleges there are opportunities through OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) for discussion and outreach addressing the opioid crisis. All college students, not just those preparing for a healthcare occupation, should be aware of the opioid crisis.
If we do not prepare our students who choose healthcare as an occupation and we don’t minister to current healthcare workers who are currently facing moral and ethical challenges, there stands the possibility that they could be affected by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is not something to take lightly. It was only recently that PTSD was taken more seriously in regard to our veterans. For years, a term called “battle fatigue” was the terminology used for those emotionally affected by combat. Finally, there is recognition that PTSD could very easily become prevalent among healthcare workers, which is why early intervention can prove to prevent that from happening.
Although these are extraordinarily challenging times, awareness is on the rise and options are available for healing. We, the Orthodox faithful, must come together and stand united in this fight against the opioid crisis. Indeed, the opioids are a formidable enemy, but our faith in Christ is much greater. As it says in the baptismal hymn: For we in Christ who have been baptized, have put on Christ. Likewise, let us never forget the words Christ spoke to his disciples before his passion, which applies to us even today: In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33 NKJV)