Pain – it is a key part of the human experience. But how does pain lead to 3000 Canadian deaths in 2016 alone? In a word, opioids. The high numbers of deaths due to opioid overdoses in the past few years have caused many to be alarmed and has led some, including our Federal Minister of Health Dr. Jane Philpott, to call this a public health crisis.
“It’s a complex problem and it actually has multiple roots,” Minister Philpott told us at Context TV. “I think the deepest roots are unresolved pain and trauma in peoples’ lives. Much of this has its roots in addiction and it’s been said by many that at the root of addiction is pain, is hurt. Sometimes that is physical pain which has gotten people on the path to having to use opioids for their physical pain, and unfortunately, some people are susceptible to become addicted to those opioids. But many times it is psychological pain; it is issues that have happened in peoples’ childhood or their past that has caused them to seek out a way of dealing with that pain, and sometimes that happens through drugs. These are very powerful chemicals that really take over peoples’ lives,” said Dr. Philpott.
Considering how rapidly this crisis materialized, many may be wondering, ‘How did we get here?’ Opioids are a class of synthetic drugs which were originally derived from opium. These drugs have gone through several stages of development, beginning in the 1800s with the development of morphine. The high rates of addiction that resulted from people taking morphine pushed scientists to develop other opioids which would provide the same pain relief, but remove the addictive property of the drug. With every attempt at doing this, scientists and, later, pharmaceutical companies, created more powerful painkillers that all had the same addictive properties of opium. Some of these drugs include heroin, oxycodone, OxyContin, and fentanyl. Over time, the pain receptors in the brain need more and more opioids to reduce pain, causing people to need stronger opioids. When someone with chronic pain is prescribed an opioid, they will often get pushed down the dangerous path of addiction because they need stronger doses to fight their pain. For those who are dealing with emotional pain, opioids give them the ability to numb their pain and can further endanger addiction.
Given that the opioids crisis is such a complex issue, I have been asked, “Which cause of the opioid crisis should we tackle?” It is difficult to pick just one, but I would argue that one of the most destructive causes is apathy. As Dr. Anna Lembke, the author of Drug Dealer, MD tells us at Context, we are the first generation to believe the promise of better living through chemicals. Pain, whether it is emotional or physical, takes more than pills to fix, and at the root of all pain is hurt, and even when it’s physical, pain takes life on life to heal. That’s why the teachings of Jesus modelled activism, not apathy. Love shows up in personal conversations and acts of kindness and every person in pain, whether it is physical or emotional, needs more of those experiences every week. You cannot replace those kinds of conversations with a text or a Facebook message. So, make that your goal. Have you had an extended personal conversation with somebody who needs hope this week? Have you had a personal conversation with somebody who builds into your life? The divine light of Christ’s healing in our lives is always transmitted through people. So, let’s get out there and share it at every level of this nation’s opioid crisis.