Kathleen M. Gallagher
Kathleen M. Gallagher

The misuse of opioids and resulting addictions has become a public health crisis in our country. An estimated 1.7 million Americans suffer from a substance use disorder. Eighty percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioid pain­killers. And every day, 130 people die following an opioid drug overdose.

Those are the statistics. But behind each number is a face, a name, a family struggling or destroyed. Saratoga Springs residents Maureen and Ken Provost know the pain all too well. Five years ago they lost their only child, Dan, at the age of 23, to a drug overdose. He was a smart, athletic and daring young man. He was a swimmer and a Boy Scout who loved animals and played a mean game of ping pong. Little did his parents know that a prescription for Oxycodone following the removal of his wisdom teeth would change the course of their lives forever.

The disease of addiction took hold of Dan and turned the family’s lives upside down. Alcohol, marijuana, pill opioids and heroin. Hospital emergency visits, arrests, a car accident, inpatient detox, outpatient care. At the time of his death, Dan had been on a significant road to recovery, but one slip is all it takes.

At Dan’s funeral mass, Maureen and Ken vowed that Dan’s death would not be in vain. They have immersed themselves in drug prevention and recovery efforts, educating, advocating, and fundraising for valuable programs. They inform school children and other community groups about prevention. They provide understanding, compassion and support to others who are experiencing addiction in their families.

For the Provosts, the opioid crisis was life-altering. For the rest of us, myself included, perhaps we think about addictions when the evening news reports the overdose death of some Hollywood celebrity, but then we quickly forget, and go about our daily lives. We can’t afford to do that any longer.

We are the church, the Body of Christ, the field hospital. We must step up to take care of our sisters and brothers who are hurting. We must intervene to save lives. Pope Francis has called drug addiction an evil that is gravely harmful to health, life and society.

There is much we can do in our little corner of the vineyard. Pray for those who are struggling with addiction, that they may find strength and healing through the Lord. Make a donation to a prevention or recovery program on the frontlines of this battle. Volunteer your time and talents at a community center, or begin a support program in your own parish. Dispose of unused medications properly through a police or government-sponsored drug take back program. Urge your elected representatives to expand treatment options. Do not judge.

Dan Provost could have easily been my child. Or your child. Indeed, he was a child of God, an unrepeatable and sacred gift with a unique personal story, not some broken object or reckless junkie. He was a young man with a disease in need of healing and hope. Let’s honor his memory and respect his dignity by raising awareness and doing our part.

Kathleen M. Gallagher is the director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.