Thoughts on Maximillian Kolbe and the Opioid Crisis

August 15, 2018

Most of us, whether Catholic or not, have heard the story of St. Maximillian Kolbe (1894-1941), the Polish saint who died in Auschwitz, one of the German death camp. Because several unknown men had escaped the death camp, the deputy commander of the camp selected ten prisoners at random to starve to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. Father Kolbe was a Franciscan priest who volunteered to take the place of one of the prisoners who was sentenced to death. After two weeks Father Kolbe was the last one remaining in the bunker, and the impatient guards wanted to empty the bunker. On August 14, 1941, the guards gave Father Kolbe a lethal intravenous injection of carbolic acid, and the next day his remains were cremated.  Father Kolbe was canonized in October of 1982 by Pope John Paul II. Because of his death by injection he has become the patron saint of injection drug users. 

Most of us, whether Catholic or not, have heard the story of St. Maximillian Kolbe (1894-1941), the Polish saint who died in Auschwitz, one of the German death camp. Because several unknown men had escaped the death camp, the deputy commander of the camp selected ten prisoners at random to starve to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. Father Kolbe was a Franciscan priest who volunteered to take the place of one of the prisoners who was sentenced to death. After two weeks Father Kolbe was the last one remaining in the bunker, and the impatient guards wanted to empty the bunker. On August 14, 1941, the guards gave Father Kolbe a lethal intravenous injection of carbolic acid, and the next day his remains were cremated.  Father Kolbe was canonized in October of 1982 by Pope John Paul II. Because of his death by injection he has become the patron saint of injection drug users. 


As a community pharmacist practicing for 37 years, I have never seen any “plague” as we have seen with the opioid crisis. More than 63,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016. Not a person that I talk to doesn’t have a friend or family impacted by overdoses. As a pharmacist we provide Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) to our patients with opioid addiction. At the pharmacy where I work we provide Narcan (a reversal agent for opioid overdose) using Dr. Rachel Levine’s standing orders. Levine is the physician general of Pennsylvania, who has orders for any pharmacist to dispense Narcan upon request by any patient. My staff and I are very proactive in giving this lifesaving medication to our at-risk patients.


As a mortal doing what I can professionally to help this population of addicts by providing drug therapy I also add another dimension. Below my computer keyboard, I have a picture of St. Maximillian Kolbe, and ask his intercession to help these struggling patients, and to help me make appropriate decisions to help them. Tuesday was his feast day, but it is good to ask his intercession to help us with this opioid crisis.  We need all the help we can get.