We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

Fighting Fentanyl

New Teen Challenge curriculum addresses the basics of the opioid addiction epidemic from a biblical perspective.
OZARK, Missouri — New Teen Challenge International U.S.A. President Gary W. Blackard believes education is the key to fighting the opioid epidemic. As such, the addiction recovery ministry, a department of U.S. Missions, is developing a new curriculum designed to instruct not only addicts, but also relatives and friends who must deal with the aftermath.

“In order to battle addiction, we have to bring awareness of what addiction is,” says Blackard, who officially took over leading the Ozark, Missouri-based ministry full time in May.

A new biblically based student curriculum track called “Breaking Free: Exposing the Nature of Addiction,” will be published in July as the first in a series of six workbooks to be published by the end of the year. This is the first addiction education track of its kind for Adult & Teen Challenge. Wendy Buttacy, who in March became the Adult & Teen Challenge chief learning officer, is writing the studies.

“The goal is to dive deeper into the root causes of addiction, showing how it affects us emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and mentally,” says Buttacy, who graduated with a biblical studies and psychology degree from Evangel University and a master’s in counseling from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. The curriculum provides hopeful solutions of how Jesus can provide freedom from compulsive cravings.

“Is addiction a sin or disease?” Buttacy asks. “Our perspective is Jesus came to heal our disease and to forgive our sins.”

The new addiction education curriculum includes a six-week ”Personal Study for New Life In Christ” for each of what eventually will be 40 tracks. Weekly topics in the Breaking Free study cover questions such as “Why do we need to understand addiction?,” “What does the Bible say about addiction?,” and “How does addiction affect our bodies?”

The materials can be used in classes at the 256 U.S. Adult & Teen Challenge centers, in one-on-one counseling situations, in a church small group setting, or for individual instruction. The first study covers the nature of addiction and spells out how it affects the family unit. The second manual addresses confronting denial. The third focuses on grief and addiction.

“Addiction is often the fire we start to avoid grief and pain,” says Buttacy. “It’s also a breeding ground for more grief.”

The new curriculum comes at a crucial time. According to National Vital Statistics Reports, fentanyl in 2016 for the first time supplanted heroin as the deadliest drug, accounting for 31 percent of all unintentional overdoes.

Blackard notes that the synthetic fentanyl is less expensive to produce than many other opioids, a category that also includes heroin, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, and oxycodone. While the low cost has caused fentanyl’s popularity to soar, the potent high also means an accidental overdose death is more likely — especially because fentanyl can be surreptitiously mixed with other opioids. In addition, fentanyl is showing up in the systems of victims who died from cocaine and heroin.

“Most students who enroll in Teen Challenge use multiple drugs, in many cases up to five,” Blackard says. “Typically the pattern is marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, of the 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017, more than two-thirds resulted from a prescription or illicit opioid. For the first time in the U.S., more people now die daily from drug abuse than from motor vehicle crashes. Drug overdose deaths doubled between 2005 and 2017 and are at an all-time high, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

Blackard came into the position with an ambitious set of goals. While long-term residential care remains the core program of the 61-year-old Assemblies of God ministry, Blackard is pursuing multiple nonresidential strategies in an effort to be more effective in combating drug abuse. That includes amping up the availability of the new curriculum in church settings.

“Virtually everyone knows someone who has some sort of addiction,” Blackard says. “Churches have to get involved, at least starting a conversation at some level, perhaps a life group that talks these things through.”

Various congregations have implemented an on-site program called Living Free. That includes James River Church, which is across the highway from the national Teen Challenge offices in Ozark.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.