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A Communal Response to the Opioid Epidemic: How We Can All Help

We would like to believe that the opioid epidemic is not something we Jews are affected by, but that is simply not the case.

Two years ago, we were interviewed by Haaretz for an article on the opioid crisis and the myth that it does not impact the Jewish community. The reporter introduced that article by telling the story of one family’s loss of their son in Brooklyn community in 2011. In our support group for families with loved ones struggling from substance use and addiction, we have also experienced the loss of loved ones to overdoses.

"These are just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is, that many Jewish families in all types of communities around the globe, are experiencing this illness and its tragic consequences."

They may not speak openly about it, for fear of the attending shame and stigma that addiction unfortunately bears, but this only furthers the misconception that Jewish people do not suffer from this disease.

Addiction does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, religion, gender, or socio-economic status. We Jews are as adversely impacted by opioid misuse and addiction as any other community or group.

When we understand that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing or a character flaw, then we can move beyond the myth and falsehood that Jews are not affected by this illness.

In so doing, we start to eliminate the shame and stigma that many who are struggling and their families experience. We allow sufferers to come forward and get the help and support they need.

The CDC released data earlier this year reporting that, in 2020, drug overdoses in the U.S. reached an all-time high killing more than 93,000 individuals, increasing by nearly 30% over the previous year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported this to be the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

Realizing that this is a crisis that affects us all and learning how one can be prepared in an emergency, is critical. CCSA held a free virtual event on October 24th to encourage members of every Jewish community to come together and address this issue head on by learning how the opioid epidemic has impacted us and to be trained in the use of Narcan in the event of an overdose.

Our message is that it is imperative for all of us – rabbis, teachers, parents, friends, neighbors – to understand this reality and be aware of the impact it has on all of us, whether we realize it or not, and to be prepared.

"We talk openly about all sorts of illnesses that affect Jewish people – cancer, heart disease, diabetes – and discuss (exhaustively sometimes) ways to take care of ourselves in order to hopefully prevent these conditions and illnesses from occurring. We need to speak freely about the disease of addiction and ways we can treat and prevent it in the same way."

As for Narcan, we put defibrillators and fire extinguishers in our shuls and schools, all to be prepared in case, G-d forbid, there is an emergency and we need to respond quickly. While we are prepared for a heart attack or fire, we are not ready should someone suffer an overdose in our midst.

What an amazing message we send to sufferers and their families, to be ready to respond should one occur, acknowledging the very possibility and reality that it is an issue and risk that exists among us simply by having a Narcan kit on hand.

We should be prepared because, like everyone else, we are not immune.


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