We are experiencing a major crisis in the United States: the crisis of drug use and abuse. For a long time, this problem may have been thought of as only an issue for the inner city, or for people of a certain race. It may have been easy to dismiss drug users as "bad people" who created their own problems and deserved punishment. But in recent years the problem of drug abuse has gotten a lot closer to home - affecting our children, our schools, our communities. For too long we have been silent. For too long we have considered it "some one else's problem." I believe its is time for the church, and me as it's pastoral leader, to engage with this crisis. I believe it is time for us to start to educate ourselves - asking questions, learning about current policies and practices, and considering how we can be a part of a solution. How can we protect our children from drug addiction? How can we rehabilitate addicts so that they become healthy, productive members of society? How do we break the cycle of multiple generations falling into poverty, drug use, or abuse? There are no easy answers to these questions. But I believe we are called to engage in conversation and advocacy.
I want to keep you all informed with what I am learning and how I am engaging this issue. My hope is that many of you will join me in conversation and action. There are probably more people than we realize in our own congregation who have been affected by drug abuse and addiction. The problem is growing, and our power to address it begins with a willingness to talk openly. To that end, I will be engaging in a leadership academy at the Chautauqua Institute for the next few years. One of the purposes of this academy is to find ways to engage the communities we live in and help them to change, renew, and strengthen. As a participant in this program, I will focus my study, conversation, and planning on how I can address Drug Policy reform. I didn't think two years ago I would be as involved with Drug Policy Reform as I am now, but I feel the spirit is calling me to take the work and success of Medical Cannabis Reform, and apply it to the current crisis of drug abuse, addiction, and the absence of affordable treatment.
My first action was to write a letter to Senator Casey and Senator Toomey, about my concern if we repeal the Affordable Care Act without a reasonable alternative. I have included the letter in this newsletter with the hope that it will help us engage and learn from one another. Writing all this in Eagle’s Wings produces quite a bit of anxiety for me, as I know that there are opposing viewpoints on all issues. But when I read the Beatitudes, when I reflect on our Lord's habit of dinning with sinners, when I consider the greatest commandment, and when I stand in awe of God's love for all of us - every single one - I am compelled do things that some of you might find surprising. Please know that it is with much prayer and reflection that I continue on this path. I would encourage you to search your own heart and pray about this issue. Perhaps you are ready to take a step right now - if you feel so inclined to contract Senator Casey or Toomey, you can use the letter provided as a form letter. Or perhaps you need to just pray for God's direction, for God to open your heart and mind. Wherever you stand, I pray for God's wisdom and peace - in your heart and mine.
Letter of Action – To Senator Casey and Toomey (This form letter was taken from a template provide by Clergy for a New Drug Policy).
I am profoundly concerned over the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I implore you to oppose any such change and to ensure that any revision calls for at least current levels of coverage, especially for the very poor.
Over 20 million individuals, including one million children, now have access to health care who otherwise would be left out in the cold. If only for this reason, I applaud the accomplishments of this legislation.
I do so also because the Affordable Care Act has given us something our nation has never had before – the real possibility of caring for our mentally ill, and those struggling with substance abuse disorders.
Throughout our nation’s history, we have shamefully neglected the mentally ill. We are currently more likely to jail addicts than to provide treatment. This landmark legislation was on the verge of changing all that by including inpatient and outpatient care to diagnose and treat a mental health condition or substance abuse.
We desperately need these services. A national opioid crisis claimed over 33,000 lives in 2015. It is simply wrong to eliminate the eligibility, and most likely, the funding for treatment for the victims of this national calamity, especially our youth.
With ACA repeal, about 2.8 million Americans would lose their eligibility for substance abuse treatment, including 222,000 addicted to opioids. Repeal would be especially damaging in economically depressed rural areas, where over 30 million people have no access to life-saving medically assisted treatment such as naloxone.
In the rush to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, those afflicted with mental health and substance abuse disorders will be the first to be cast aside. My deepest religious convictions cause me to insist that this not be permitted to happen. We have a special responsibility to those whom society cares for least.
I urge you to oppose repeal of The Affordable Care Act without first approving replacement measures.
Pastor Shawn Berkebile