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Drug threat draws renewed Christian response

NASHVILLE (BP) — With drug overdose deaths surpassing automobile accident fatalities and firearm-related killings as the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., some Christians are taking a closer look at how they can help combat America’s drug problem.

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) Summary reported 120 people in the U.S. die each day as a result of drug overdose. The 46,471 drug overdose deaths in 2013 — the most recent year for which data is available — exceeded motor vehicle crash fatalities by more than 11,000 and firearm deaths by nearly 13,000, according to a report by CNSNews.

The NDTA, a comprehensive assessment of the U.S. drug threat released Nov. 4, called prescription drug abuse and heroin — in that order — “the most significant drug threats to the United States.”

Less than a week after the Drug Enforcement Administration’s report was released, messengers to the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists adopted a resolution pledging to “dedicate [themselves] to active involvement in the effort to rid our country of drug abuse.”

The resolution was based on a 1997 Southern Baptist Convention resolution “on drug abuse.” The West Virginia convention’s resolutions committee chairman, Mike Kelly, told Baptist Press the growing drug problem in his state and elsewhere demands that Southern Baptists reemphasize this aspect of cultural engagement.

Drug users “are trying to fill a need in their lives,” said Kelly, pastor of Cameron (W. Va.) Baptist Church, “a need to fit in and feel accepted. They’re finding that in these illicit drugs. We as a Christian community need to reach out and show them love and respect and honor, and we also need to teach them the godly principles they’re walking away from.”

Adopted Nov. 6 during the WVCSB annual meeting at First Baptist Church in Ceredo, W.Va., the West Virginia convention’s resolution notes that “every faithful Christian should bear a definite responsibility to achieve a successful solution” to the problem of drug abuse. Messengers pledged “total abstention” from alcohol and illegal drugs and promised never to abuse prescription medication.

Kelly said prescription drug abuse is a significant part of the drug problem in West Virginia, which has the highest drug overdose mortality rate in America — 28.9 people per 100,000 according to the resolution.

Across all 50 states, the NDTA found “the number of individuals reporting current abuse of CPDs [controlled prescription drugs] is more than those reporting the use of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA [ecstasy] and phencyclidine (PCP) combined.” Since 2002, prescription drug-related deaths have “outpaced” cocaine and heroin deaths combined, according to the report. Those factors contributed to the DEA’s classification of prescription medication abuse as the top drug threat in America.

Heroin is the second greatest drug threat in part because prescription drug abusers “begin using heroin as a cheaper alternative to the high price of illicit CPDs or when they are unable to obtain prescription drugs,” according to the report.

A separate study published Nov. 3 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in 2011-12, 59 percent of Americans age 20 and older took at least one prescription drug, up from 51 percent 12 years previously, The Washington Post reported. Some 15 percent took five or more prescription drugs in 2011-12, an 8 percent increase from 1999-2000.

Kim Jones, associate professor of pharmacy practice at Union University, told BP “prescription drug use has become so prevalent, in part, due to access to the medications.” The narcotic Lortab, for example, is the “number one dispensed prescription medication in the state of Tennessee.”

Jones said in written comments, “There is also the false assumption that because prescription drugs are prescribed by a licensed provider and dispensed by a pharmacist, that they are always safe and free from potential adverse effects.”

Part of curbing the prescription drug abuse epidemic, Jones said, is handling prescription medication properly.

“Awareness of the potential dangers of prescription medication use and storage is a critical piece needed to combat this threat,” Jones said. “These drugs should not be shared, should not be used longer than required and should be stored away from children/adolescents. Once no longer needed, the drugs should be disposed of properly, potentially through one of the DEA’s National Take-Back Days. Prescribers should also make an intentional effort to only prescribe these agents to patients who really need them and in appropriate quantities.”

Among the NDTA’s other findings:

— “Marijuana is the most widely available and commonly used illicit drug in the United States.”

The legalization of recreational and so-called medical marijuana by some states and municipalities “poses a challenge for federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement efforts given the different regulatory regimes at the state level,” the NDTA stated. Increased marijuana production and use in areas where it is legal are “adversely affecting states in which marijuana remains an illegal substance.”

A footnote of the report stated, “Marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act with no accepted medical use in the United States.”

— Marijuana concentrates, which are more potent than leaf marijuana, “pose an issue of growing concern.”

— The number of U.S. residents who reported using heroin in the past 30 days increased 51 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to one study.

— Cocaine use in the U.S. has shown “a steady decline” over the past decade.

DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in an administration press release, “Sadly this report confirms what we’ve known for some time: drug abuse is ending too many lives too soon and destroying families and communities. We must reach young people at an even earlier age and teach them about its many dangers and horrors.”