“And the King answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”  –Matthew, 25:40

Many of us heard this quote often growing up, and many have unconsciously incorporated it into our daily outlook on life.  We try our best to be considerate to passersby, to those we meet in service positions, and perhaps most crucially, to those we feel have wronged us or those we love.  Regardless of personal religious affiliation, people would overwhelmingly argue that this idea, resting deep inside millions and millions of hearts, is a tool that helps us—all of us—live in a healthier, more peaceful world.

But some aspects of our world seem decidedly unhealthy, unpeaceful, and downright dangerous.  Such situations, circumstances and people are those that seem to have fallen victim to unspeakable evil; some things, we think, are so far gone that no effort, no matter how God-centered, will bring any aid or relief.  But a collective voice of religious conviction is rising, reminding all of us—all children of God, that we need to double down in tough times and translate our faith into works.

The opioid epidemic is running rampant across America.  People in positions of legal, medical and intellectual authority are testing any possible remedies for the opioid crisis that they can find.  Some relief has been found, but by and large the drug problem this country faces is still of epic proportions.

Yet the barest glimmer of hope has begun to shine, as research has begun to show unequivocally that syringe service programs (SSPs: Mobile networks that provide users of intravenous drugs with clean needles) are helping to markedly reduce the spread of bloodborne infections (including Hepatitis C and H.I.V.) in places where they have been legally sanctioned. SSPs are not only helping reduce harm among those who actively use drugs, but also among members of the larger community, including law enforcement officers and medical technicians. SSPs help benefit the fellowship of men and women in which we all live.

Of course, at first glance the idea of offering clean needles to people using intravenous drugs seems counterintuitive.  After all, wouldn’t giving people the tools needed to use drugs in effect say to them, “Using drugs is okay! You have society’s blessing to carry on in your misery”?  And because overdoses, infections and deaths from injectable drug use continue, it seems to many that SSPs aren’t accomplishing anything apart from spreading drug use. And spreading drug us is not helpful at all.  Indeed, it seems rational to declare a War on Drugs; to declare a war on a phenomenon that has declared war on our world, and left many of us for dead.

But as people of faith, this is precisely the time to put our convictions to the test.  We must momentarily set aside the fact that research shows SSPs to be an effective weapon against the harms perpetuated by intravenous drug use, and answer a deeper call.  Even though our own struggles may not on the surface resemble those of millions of people grappling with intravenous drug use, we must remember how we have felt in our own darkest hours.  We must remember our own yearning, our own defeated pride, our own crushed confidence. Most importantly, we must remember what it was like to feel the constant weakening of our last hope: that God would send His mercy our way, no matter the form that mercy might take.

We are all members of the same human family. We must recall the ways in which family members can cause us grief; many of us and those we hold dearest may have been devastated by opioid use. As Jesus advised, we must turn the other cheek.

Many religious leaders have begun to echo the sentiment that when fighting the spread of drug use, our pervasive spirit of punishment is wrong.  Instead, they argue, the highest motivation should be “our religious principles of compassion, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.”

Syringe Service Programs show us at least one way to adopt such attitudes while still effectively fighting drug use and the harm it brings.  By supporting legislation allowing SSPs to operate legally in Arizona, we of earnest faith are doing something to help those who are suffering.  Just as God’s laws seek to save people from their own misguided behavior, so should our laws here on Earth seek to help—not to condemn.

As people of faith, our highest calling in this lifetime is to act according to the examples of best model yet to appear.  To live a satisfying life that is orchestrated by God, we must remember to follow His teachings. To offer our support to those who desperately need our helping hands.