A light in the darkness of heroin

A program that works to help heroin addicts. Even if I didn’t believe in God, I’d still support them.

Shenandoah Valley sunrise, pastel, Carol L. Douglas
In December I wrote about going back to my hometown for a funeral for the victim of a heroin overdose. I was both grief-stricken for the family and shaken by the evidence that the iron grip of heroin now reaches everywhere in our culture.
Relapse rates for heroin and opiate addiction are around 90%. The rate for alcoholics and meth users are about the same. Even with drug treatment programs many users will relapse, and there just aren’t enough treatment programs to fill the need.
There were about one million heroin users in the U.S. as of 2014. That’s almost three times the number as in 2003. Heroin deaths have quintupled since 2000. Today, more Americans die from drug overdoses than car crashes or guns: 47,000 people in the US in 2014. In New England, the problem is compounded by heroin’s synthetic cousin, Fentanyl.
The Raising of Lazarus, Carol L. Douglas
Law enforcement officials have long pointed out the relationship between legal and illegal drugs, and how oxycodone addiction leads people to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get. But even without making the leap to illegal drugs, opiods can and do kill. A 2013 CDC study pointed out the “epidemic levels” of prescription pain medication overdoses among women. The older you get, the easier it is to off yourself with prescription drugs, which might be why we frequently read about middle-aged celebrity overdoses.
I was familiar with Teen Challenge from Rochester, because my husband would occasionally play music for them. This is the group founded by David Wilkerson of The Cross and the Switchblade fame. I knew that Teen Challenge wasn’t for teenagers anymore; in fact you have to be 18 to enter the program.
I didn’t realize that they are focused on the heroin epidemic until this past Sunday. A dozen men from Teen Challenge New England visited our church. Some were functioning addicts before catastrophe forced them into treatment. Some were in jail. All have committed to finishing the 15-month program and rejoining the world.
After church, we had lunch with a few of the guys. One of them was about the same age as my kids. “I came from a good family,” he told me. “It wasn’t like my parents had done anything wrong.” That’s a scary thought. Parents believe that if they do everything right they can inoculate their children against bad choices. It’s true to a degree, but it’s not universally true.
End of the storm, pastel, Carol L. Douglas
Teen Challenge has a demonstrated track record, with a 70 to 86% success rate. Of course, it does this by insisting on personal responsibility. That is not a universally-popular strategy for our times. As one of the guys said on Sunday, “We get no government funding. They would make us remove Jesus from our program. Jesus isour program.”
That reminds me of something my thug pal recently told me: “Everyone finds God in jail.” Since ours is the God of extremis, that makes a certain kind of cynical sense. And, yes, I’d like to see more programs for women addicts.
But before you criticize Teen Challenge, ask yourself if you have a better plan. Even if I didn’t believe in God, I’d still send money to them. Their program works, and we’re running out of ideas.