(Sixteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
In 2020, overdose deaths have increased worldwide, and by as much as 25% in the US. Deaths from acute intoxication have also increased dramatically. People are isolated and anxious, their treatment and recovery programs have been disrupted, and the illicit drug supply has become dangerous. Health officials believe that the majority of these deaths have occurred because hospitals are full and emergency services are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, thus removing the urgent, lifesaving care of overdose reversal that has been established in the past few years. Funding for all mental health services has also been diverted to pandemic care, which has complicated access to basic resources. Suicides are rising at an alarming rate.
A conversation that I believe is relevant to the current times came to mind this week. A lawyer asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” as he was trying to wriggle out of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him about a man beaten and robbed while on a journey. As the man lay almost dead on the road, he was passed by several religious leaders who refused to help him. Then a man, who was not the same nationality or religion, came and bandaged and rescued him and paid for his care until he was well. Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these men proved to be a neighbor?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed compassion.” Jesus responded, “Go and do the same.” *
Americans are known as “rugged individualists” which has served us well in overcoming many national crises – but the downside becomes evident when there is a need to come together in unity for a common goal and individualism fights with the communal good and self-interest is promoted. During the last few years, this downside seems to have been more prevalent than ever before as our country has become increasingly self-centered and politically divided.
One of the prominent messages being espoused is the fear that some of our politicians want our country to become ‘Socialist’ – a negative buzz-word for capitalists and erroneously considered similar to Communism. But if we consider what socialism means, we might be more willing to embrace a bit of it, especially during these unprecedented times. The Latin root of community means ‘common’ and of social, ‘friend’ or ‘allied’. We all understand that we are social beings, needing companionship – friends and allies – and we thrive when living communally.
Why then does it seem that so many Americans are having such a hard time right now letting go of their individual rights and freedoms for the common good of society as a whole – and particularly for the most vulnerable members: the elderly, the marginalized, the needy? Perhaps it is because they are not who we consider our ‘neighbor’ or part of our ‘community’?
The relevant questions for us at this time are: Who do we consider our neighbor and what do each of us consider as our community? Is it only our family, our church group, our professional network, our schools? Are we just taking care of ‘me and mine’?
John and I have been living in Australia with our daughter and family since last March. From friends, social media, and international news, we have seen a stark contrast between how Australia as a nation, and Australians as individuals, have responded to this international crisis when compared to the response by America and many Americans. In Australia, it is understood that what affects one of us affects all of us and that we have a personal responsibility to act for the communal good and the benefit of society at large. This mindset has directed the public health response to Covid-19 and is responsible for the very limited spread of the virus throughout the nation.
My concern is that those of us who are not struggling with addiction, mental illness, or poverty, should be at the forefront of observing health and safety guidelines and mandates, not resisting them. In this way we can help our society as a whole by not inadvertently spreading Covid-19 so that medical services are available for our most vulnerable individuals.
So, rather than eschew public health guidelines in order to solely be with friends and family where we are comfortable, let’s look for ways we can reach out to those in need while remaining safe. Here are a few ideas to help “Love your neighbor as well as you love yourself”:
- If a family member or friend is struggling with opioid addiction, carry Narcan and know how to use it.
- Check in regularly via phone or text with those you know who may be struggling with isolation: the elderly, the sick, those living with addiction or mental health issues.
- Contact local recovery programs and ask what you can do to help – financial support, telephone counseling, driving clients, etc.
- Volunteer to help collect and distribute essential supplies to those in shelters or the homeless.
- Prepare and take meals to those living on the streets.
- In Australia, a public addiction service provides mobile phones with limited call plans for those who cannot afford them in order for them to gain access to their virtual support groups. The phone plan is cancelled if the client doesn’t comply with the rules. Contact your local public recovery program to suggest this idea and solicit funds to implement it.
Let’s take risks to be a neighbor to those who cannot return the favor and to serve others rather than ourselves.
PS – Dr Jana Burson’s blog that was just posted Jan 3rd is on Compassion – check it out. She is an addiction doctor with great relevant posts full of insight and information. https://janaburson.wordpress.com/