“There is a problem underlying our drug epidemic,” says Travis Lowe. “It’s an epidemic of despair.” Lowe, who is the pastor of Crossroads Church in Bluefield, W.Va., says that when he talks to kids in his community, “They’ve never even thought about what they want to be when they grow up.”
Last week the Centers for Disease Control announced that drug deaths in the United States are rising at a faster rate than ever and communities like Lowe’s are at the center of it. In 2015, West Virginia had the highest rate of deaths from opioid overdoses.
The despair has come in part from the economic crisis. Of the county next door to Lowe’s, Reason magazine recently noted, “Ninety percent of kids are . . . below the poverty threshold for free and reduced-price lunches, 47 percent do not live with their biological parents, often because of incarceration and drug addiction, and 77 percent live in households in which no one has a job.”
And there seems to be little in the way of spiritual solace either. Despite the stereotype that folks in rural areas of Ohio and West Virginia “cling to their guns and their religion,” churches have experienced a real decline in rural America. Partly, it’s simply a numbers game — people are leaving these areas in large numbers.
But it’s also the result of other factors — the stigma against not going to church is no longer there. The family structure is not there to support the church — and vice versa. Our educated elites have mocked the church and traditional morality for half a century, but it is those same elites who are more likely to attend church and to get married before having children than their poorer, rural, less-educated peers.
In her recent piece in The New Yorker, “The Addicts Next Door,” about the opioid crisis in West Virginia, Margaret Talbot only mentions church once — as a place where residents can learn how to administer Narcan, the drug used to revive people who have…