Healing Support with Medication Therapy for Opioid Addicts: what Faith-Based Programs Need to Know

The state of North Carolina was recently given $750 million to be used over the course of 18 years for people and communities affected by the Opioid Epidemic. Although I’m grateful for the contribution, I have doubts about how the money will be spent.

While many religious leaders of residential programs open their doors to offer “healing” support for addicts, they refuse and “rebuke” therapeutic medications, like methadone and buprenorphine, as part of a resident’s treatment. One former GOP leader from NC, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2019 and was pardoned by Donald Trump, has partnered with some faith-based programs (one has already received $10 million from the latest state budget) which have no experience in substance use treatment.

I recently spoke with an addiction psychiatrist whose clinic provides medications for opioid use disorder. He explained how the widespread presence of fentanyl (an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin) was increasing the death rate. When treatment programs don’t provide the best of care at the beginning of treatment (including therapeutic medications), he said they are letting people die. He further stated that in no other field of medicine would this be allowed.

So many lives have been lost as a result of the greedy drug companies who knowingly perpetrated and distributed highly addictive opioids, like OxyContin. Families continue to grieve, wondering what more they could have done. Meanwhile, there’s much consensus in the medical community about the effectiveness of FDA-approved medicines for opioid use disorder; so much so that President Biden called for universal access to them by 2025.

Hopefully, North Carolina will set clear guidelines for how programs provide treatment and interventions for opioid addiction. Our medical professionals know better and are doing better. It’s time the faith-based programs allow and incorporate evidence-based interventions (like FDA-approved medications) into their residential facilities. Denying medical treatment for addicts is no different than withholding insulin for diabetic-both life will end in death that could have been avoided.

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