I just finished watching a really depressing documentary on PBS’s Frontline, it is called Chasing Heroin. It focused in on the Seattle, Washington area, mostly because the city of Seattle has been implementing what they call the Lead program. It essentially decriminalizes drug addiction and attempts to reclassify it as a public health issue. So when an addict makes contact with a police officer, most of them are diverted from the criminal justice system and hooked up with a Lead counselor who offers them options for treatment and so on. It allows some drug addicts to avoid felony charges, in some instances, and instead keeps tabs on them in their life as an addict. The addict determines their own time table in the Lead program, in other words they can be in the program and still be using. The goal, of course, is to ultimately get the addict sober and clean, but the more minimal goal is to make sure that if they are using that they are doing so in as safe of an environment as possible, and to minimize occasions for the addict to be involved in criminal activity. According to a recent University of Washington study the Lead program has been quite successful in minimizing criminal activity among addicts, and also in getting more of these addicts clean. The Lead model has now gained Federal recognition and is being adopted by other municipalities throughout the country.
But of course what I want to focus on is the plight of some of the addicts this documentary followed. One guy’s name is Johnny, one of the gal’s names is Chrissie, and there were a few others. Chrissie started when she was just a teenager with hard drugs, and she is currently twenty. She has been living on the streets of downtown Seattle, selling her body, selling drugs to support her heroin habit, and other activity. Johnny was a very successful DJ in Seattle, had a young family, and college degree. There was also a housewife they spot-lighted, I forget her name. If you saw her you would never believe she has been a heroin addict for seventeen years. For her, as with so many, it started out with an OxyCotin addiction, which then led to the heroin, and the destruction of her life. All of these folks were in the Lead program, and as the show ended they were all staying clean; they were either doing that through being in a Methadone program or in Johnny’s case he was taking the even more effective, Suboxone.
Looking at these addicts, giving them names helped to personalize them. They weren’t just junkies walking down the street; they became real life people with stories; they became the people for whom Christ came — the sick. And this is where I must go to try and cope with the jolt that this documentary injected into my system. There really isn’t much to say, drug addiction is one of the terrible blights in our country and in the world!
In 1996-97 I attended Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California. This wasn’t your average Bible College! Most of the people there had been radically saved out of some crazy situations. For example, I had four roommates in my dorm room (it was a big dorm room), three of the four were former drug addicts (and two of them demon possessed). Jesus grabbed a hold of them in a real life way, and SAVED them from the inside/out! He freed them from the bondage of drug addiction (heroin was one of the drugs in these guy’s lives), and kicked the demons out. They were walking testimonies of Romans 1.16,
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
They were the Mary Magdalenes among us, and they weren’t alone. Like I said it was an interesting Bible College (not all that academic in focus, more devotional and retreat like), and there were many other testimonies of God’s radical inbreaking into the lives of many other drug addicts, demon possessed, and gang-bangers (among other ailments).
What this experience in my life illustrates for me is that there is real life hope for heroin addicts, and others; that the euaggelion (Gospel) is apocalyptically radical, and can break bars in people’s lives that only the Gospel, the power of God can. In this documentary they interviewed the deputy drug czar in the Obama administration; he is a heavy advocate for making sure that the public sees this issue as a public health problem, and not as a crime problem. He himself has a son who died from drug addiction and another son who is struggling with addiction to drugs. He believes that medical progress is the real answer to this problem, and that things like “religion” do not have any real power to accomplish anything but empty hope and pie-in-the-sky platitudes. But, I know differently! I’ve lived with multiple former drug addicts, heroin addicts, and other types of addicts. I know that the Gospel is the power of God, and that God is able; there is nothing too difficult for Him! I know that He can heal someone from incurable/terminal cancer, and I know that He can heal someone from what some believe to be an incurable disease known as drug addiction.
There is real hope, and His name is Jesus! I trust Him. I don’t care what people say; I’m not ashamed of the Gospel because I know it is the power of God!
35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
Next time you see a junkie, at the very least pray for them! They aren’t lost, they’ve been found by Jesus Christ; they just don’t know it yet! If you can, let them know it; if not, pray that the Lord will send them someone who will let them know it. That’s the challenge I’m going to take from this documentary.