Millennials and the Opioid Epidemic


Millennials are being affected by the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Discover Magazine reports researchers “found that younger Americans, specifically those born between 1979 and 1992 (most of whom would be considered Millennials), had a higher risk of overdose death from heroin. The generational uptick in risk appeared to be the same for both men and women.”

Opioids are painkillers, drugs like morphine, methadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. These drugs are prescribed and recommended by licensed physicians to relieve pain. Sadly, in some instances these drugs have been overprescribed or abused, leading to addiction.

Heroin, an illegal drug, is also an opioid. If a person becomes addicted to painkillers, they may turn to heroin once their doctor will no longer prescribe pain medication or they can no longer afford the drugs. Heroin can be obtained cheaply, but it is not regulated, and therefore is incredibly dangerous.

In December 2016, Christianity Today featured the opioid epidemic in a cover story by Timothy King. Relevant Magazine called the opioid epidemic a “life issue Christians must address.” Writing at The Exchange, Ed Stetzer states, “What we need is not the detached appeal for punishment and police action, but rather heartfelt compassion for those stuck in addiction and their loved ones.” Stetzer calls the church to respond as a reflection of their commitment to the gospel.

Maya Salam, writing for The New York Times, has compiled an excellent report on the crisis.

Much of my writing and research on Millennials has covered how the church can help emerging generations have wisdom in using technology, choosing a career, and fostering healthy relationships. I haven’t written much about drugs. But it is important to remember that Millennials are our largest generational cohort. For any crisis that is affecting them, the implications are critical for the present and future.

Very soon, Millennials will emerge as leaders of our educational and government institutions, industry, and business. The Baby Boomers have been most affected by the opioid crisis. But Millennials are right behind them. According to Discover Magazine, “drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people increased from 4.71 to 13.56. The sharp rise was driven by the opioid epidemic taking hold and a spike in overdose deaths from prescription opioids and the illicit drugs heroin and fentanyl.” This is tragic.

What can the church do? First, Christians can be aware of the crisis. Opioid addiction has hit rural communities the hardest. Pastors who serve these communities may be poised to do the most good, helping those who are suffering to find treatment, support, and freedom.

But church leaders can also work toward solutions. Vox has offered a few policy solutions that could be implemented at the government level. Churches should consider these, and advocate for governmental and societal solutions that work. But they can also be on the front lines. Churches have ties to their community, and in partnership with medical professionals could help those who are addicted find the treatment they need, offering love, care, and encouragement rather than blame, shame, condemnation, and marginalization.

Caring for the Millennial generation involves caring for all Millennials, not only those who are of a similar race, class, and societal status as those in the majority of our churches. The church has a part to play in alleviating the suffering of our neighbors. It is a monumental task. But nothing is impossible with God.