A recent op-ed piece by a leader of the United Methodist Church, published in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, urged West Virginia’s U. S. Senators to save Medicaid so that federal funds can continue to help break the grip of the opioid epidemic.

This thoughtful article offers the theological hook–the parable of The Good Samaritan–on which to hang a political imperative to increase access to federal funds for substance abusers to receive care.

Although the story of The Good Samaritan is a good story, another parable–the Prodigal Son–is, in my opinion, more instructional and worthy of being taken into consideration for addressing the current drug problem.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, a young man leaves home and squanders his portion of his inheritance by living a less-than- desirable lifestyle. He eventually finds himself broke, hungry, neglected and living in a pigsty. It is here that he “comes to his senses” and makes a decision to go back home. He then starts walking. As he approaches home, the young man’s father runs down the road to meet his son and hugs him in a welcoming embrace.

The story of The Prodigal Son does not tell us why the young man left home and what motivated him to take a walk on the wild side (I’m sure he had his reasons). The story also does not tell us whether the father knew his son was grubbing around in a pigsty far from home (I think he did, but chose to stay home). But, one thing we know for sure–the squanderer got out of the muck by coming to his senses and beginning the long walk back. His father did not rescue him nor did anyone help him on the way back. The young man made a choice to change and then acted on that choice.

Many substance abusers probably relate more to the young man in the Prodigal Son than to the man beaten by robbers in the Good Samaritan–while one made bad choices, the other had no choice. Many mental health care providers probably relate to the remedy for the young man in the sty more than the care provided to the man found beaten and lying in a ditch. We can pull addicts out of the ditch and take them to a healthy place to recuperate, but they will not walk the road of recovery unless, or until, they make a choice to walk that walk.

Urging senators to allocate more federal funds for treatment through Medicaid presupposes that present Medicaid treatment merits our continued support. That supposition is not supported by what we are finding on the streets. I have a sick feeling Medicaid funds are now, in effect, being used to make cleaner pigsties or to rescue addicts who have not, on their own, “come to their senses.”

We, as a community, cannot beg or bribe addicts with Medicaid treatment to choose a new and better way. Substance abusers have to make that choice to be someone new on their own, and then start living into that new-ness. When they do we, as a community, will celebrate by joyously feasting with them.