News Articles

Drug abuse alarms Korean pastors

HOUSTON (BP)–Drug use is escalating among second-generation Koreans -– the children of immigrants -– and even some parents are succumbing to addictive behaviors.

“We are losing the second generation,” Ki Tak Kim of Korean Baptist Church in Sonoma County, Calif., said during the Korean Council of Southern Baptist Churches in America’s June 18-20 annual meeting in Houston.

“This is growing so fast. Before we understand English, the drugs are in our kids.”

The problem is compounded by the fact that in the Korean culture, people don’t talk about addiction being in their family, or in their church family, because to do so would be to lose face, said Kim and Man Poong Kim (no relation) of Global Mission Church in Silver Springs, Md.

“I see some of the senior adults in serious condition,” Kim of Maryland said. “I see some of them addicted to gambling, alcohol, nicotine and drugs too.”

Because of the gravity of the problem, both Kims and S.B. Park, pastor of Korean Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., have banded together to address the problem.

The solution, the pastors told the Korean annual meeting, involves education, intervention, counseling, residential treatment and, most importantly, prevention -– an effort that calls for Southern Baptists of all ethnic backgrounds to work together.

The three pastors are planning to meet in July to determine the steps necessary to organize as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and to develop plans for Korean-produced video and print educational materials to inform Koreans about drug abuse and how to deal with it among any family members struggling with it.

“I’d like to do this myself at our church,” Kim of Maryland said. “If it is effective among our Korean Baptist churches, we’d like to go over the walls of our denomination, to other Korean churches…. If we have enough energy, we’d like to expand our ministries among [other] Asian people, and more than that we hope to influence Hispanic, African Americans and even white Anglos.

“I’m not sure how God will use us and when it will happen,” Kim continued. “White Anglos have their own programs and we are learning from them. We are in the process, the first steps, so we are not sure.”

It’s possible that every Southern Baptist church in the United States has at least one member who is a drug addict, if government statistics of the nation’s drug abuse problem hold true, Kevin Chung, a drug addiction counselor and member of the Sonoma County, Calif., church, told the Korean meeting.

The three pastors commissioned Chung to examine the problem and look at possible solutions. Chung and Kim, his pastor at the California church, went on a two-week retreat four years ago during which they said God revealed that His purpose for Chung’s life involves helping people overcome addictions to drugs.

For new immigrants to the United States, Kim told Baptist Press, “[D]rugs is almost the first touch, especially when they go to school, and the age is getting younger, even elementary.”

Parents don’t know what to do and neither do pastors, Kim said.

With 22.3 million of the U.S. population affected by drugs according to government estimates, Chung told the Korean meeting of the ripple effect of devastated families, workplace problems and drug-related crime.

Chung cited statistics for AOD — alcohol and other drugs -– reported at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America conference in April:

— 85 percent of prison inmates are there because of AOD — and the key problem for 95 percent of repeat offenders.

— 75 percent of car accidents happen because of AOD.

— 85 percent of violent crimes are AOD-related, as are nearly 100 percent of school shootings; 55 percent of divorces; nearly 100 percent of child abuse; 85 percent of high school dropouts; and 65 percent of workplace accidents.

— 25 percent of public high school students had tried drugs by the eighth grade, 40 percent by the 10th grade and 80 percent of high school seniors.

— 95 percent of drug abusers started using drugs before they were 20.

“We are killing our children with denial of this problem,” Chung said. “We have to try to do prevention. The Southern Baptist Convention needs to do prevention, for our children, for our grandchildren.”

Chang S. Moon, pastor of Tacoma First Baptist Church, the largest Southern Baptist church in Washington state, spoke with Baptist Press after listening to what he described as Chung’s “disturbing” presentation.

“It is not yet among our youth culture,” Moon said of the 500-plus teens at Tacoma First. “I would like Mr. Chung to speak to them, though. I want them to know the damage of drugs on young people.”

The human body was designed to respond to a reward system in order to assure survival, Chung noted in his presentation at the Korean meeting. A kiss feels good, for example, because ultimately kissing leads to procreation -– the continuation of life, he said, noting that the good feeling comes from a naturally released chemical -– dopomaine –-in the brain. Dopomaine is the reward.

A simple kiss might release 10 units of dopomaine, whereas the human body is designed to release a maximum of 100 units of dopomaine, Chung said.

Drugs have artificial dopomaine as part of their chemical makeup, he said, explaining that the attraction with drugs is that they provide 250 or 500 -– or 1,300 in the case of heroin or methamphetamine -– units of dopomaine. The human body was not designed to compete with that level of stimulation.

An even bigger problem with drugs is “the law of diminishing returns,” Chung continued. The first time a person uses a drug, he or she might receive the full benefit of 250/500/1,300 units of dopomaine, but over time, the benefit is reduced.

The body craves the full benefit, and with each weakened effect, craves it more, Chung said. More and more drugs are ingested in a desire to get back to the high of the first use, and the addiction spirals. The body cannot absorb the sensory overload and shuts down, no longer producing natural dopomaine -– the reward system that ensures survival -– and the drugs take over, Chung said.

“When people get high, they’re not ‘there’ — in the present,” Chung said. “Their body is present time but their mind is ahead or behind. They think they’re acting normal, but the drugs are controlling them.

“On drugs, your brain is driving you crazy,” he said. “Getting high is most important. More important than babies, than husband, than anything.”

Denial -– by the user and by family members -– is a major problem with addiction, Chung said, listing five red flags that indicate substance abuse:

— Financial problems

— Life not being “normal,” not reflecting the natural highs and lows from everyday joys and sorrows.

— Strained family relationships.

— Job loss or problems at work/school.

— Trouble with the law.

Any two of these indicate the possibility of addiction; a greater number indicate a greater degree of addiction, Chung said.

“These awesome leaders [Kim of California, Kim of Maryland and Park of Tennessee], they know we have a problem in every church,” Chung said. “Every drug addict affects 20 to 30 people. That is a huge problem for the church.”

Chung and an associate, Kent McGregor, a drug addiction and rehab specialist in New Mexico and former director of that state’s substance abuse program, have examined 150 substance abuse rehabilitation programs toward shaping a strategy for addressing drug abuse.

Since drug addicts are controlled by the drugs, Chung said they need the assistance of their families, so the first thing that has to happen is for the family to stop denying the problem.

“If they look at this list and see their son or daughter has two or more of these problems -– finances, life not normal, bad relationships with the family, job or school not going well or in trouble with the law -– then they have to say there is a drug addiction problem,” Chung said. “They have to make a plan to confront them and to help them. Confront is first, but confront is no good without a plan to help.”

The concerned family members need to find out what kind of drugs and how much is being used, who the loved one’s friends are, his/her habits and what led to the addiction.

“They had a problem before they got into drugs,” Chung said. Armed with all this information, the family members then confront the drug addict with the evidence.

“The family member must break the person’s heart,” Chung said. “Remember, they cannot see themselves clearly. You must be like a mirror to them.”

Chung advocates a residential treatment program of four to six months, because 75 percent of people who start a treatment program relapse within 30 days, since so much residual effect of the drugs remains in their body.

This residual effect really does last for years, said Samuel Kim, who works with Chung as a “reclaimed example.” The son of missionaries in Indonesia, Kim said he started using alcohol and other drugs to fit in with friends when he was 15, which he described as a typical story of feeling in control about his substance abuse until, like a snake, it bit him and wrapped itself around him.

Three months after he lost his highly coveted spot in optometry school, Kim’s sister intervened. He entered rehab and for 10 years fought a continuing battle with the drugs still in his body. Kim said his last full-blown relapse was two and a half years ago; six months ago he said he had a minor relapse but was able to quickly overcome it.

Chung said the treatment program needs to include good nutrition, vitamins, physical exercise and a regular sauna routine -– at least five hours a month spent sweating out drugs from their hiding places in fat cells. Treatment also needs to include the acquisition of life skills to help addicts regain a sense of self-control and the ability to make good choices, Chung said.

The treatment should address the needs of the body first, then the mind, the same way that a starving person needs physical nourishment before he’s ready to think about the need of his soul, Chung said.

“When the mind gets clear, they are like a little baby,” Chung said. “That’s the time for Christ. The love of Jesus is the most powerful treatment, medication, in the world. They’re weak, they’re depending on this love to make them strong. They will become a very good Christian.”

Chung said he advocates sending former addicts on mission trips after they’ve gone through three months of rehab to help them feel good about doing God’s work and helping others.

The best solution to the drug problem in America is prevention, Chung said.

“Prevention works,” he said, pointing to the effects of years of education about the benefit of wearing a seat belt or bicycle helmet. People today automatically put on their seat belts when they get in a vehicle or put on a helmet before riding their bicycles.

“We have to educate for prevention,” Chung said. “Drugs are poison. They poison people’s bodies and their minds, and they are a poison in our churches. … We are not confronting enough this problem in the Southern Baptist Convention -– American side, Korean side -– and our root is getting rotten. We must work together on this. We can do much better if we cooperate. That’s the Southern Baptist way.”