CCSA will hold a free virtual event this Sunday at 10 a.m.
I met Lisa Daniels-Goldman by chance through other connections I have in the Jewish addiction world (yes, there is a whole network of people out there who deal with this issue in our community), and was immediately struck by her poise, her stoic attitude and her true grace as she told me the circumstances of the loss of her son to an overdose in 2016. While I am certain she has spoken about her son, Jamie, and his tragic death many times, I am also just as confident that it doesn’t make it any easier to speak about the loss of your child to the terrible disease of addiction no matter how many times you repeat the story.
Lisa, and the heartbreak that struck her family, should be a lesson to us all. 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 the 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 across the country, 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 you understand that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing or a character flaw, then you can move beyond the myth and falsehood that Jews are not affected by this illness. In so doing, you start to eliminate the shame and stigma that many who are struggling and their families experience. You allow them 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 of more than 93,000, 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’s free virtual event this Sunday, October 24, at 10 a.m., is designed to encourage us, as a community, to come together and address this issue head-on. 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.
We will be joined by Lisa Daniels-Goldman and Jeffrey A. Berman, MD, DFASAM, and learn how to recognize the signs of an overdose and reverse it with the administration of naloxone (Narcan). All registered participants will receive a free Narcan kit in the mail after the training. To register, go to https://www.jewishccsa.org/upcoming-events.
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, God 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 equipped and ready to step in because, as Lisa stated in her recent blog written for CCSA, “one life lost to addiction is one too many.” Let’s be prepared so that never happens.
Lianne Forman, a 29-plus-year Teaneck resident and a corporate and employment lawyer by training, is the Executive Director of Communities Confronting Substance Use & Addiction (CCSA), the organization she and her husband, Etiel, founded in 2018. Through their own family’s struggles, they founded CCSA to create greater community awareness and education about substance misuse and addiction in the Jewish community. CCSA’s mission is to eliminate stigma around addiction in Jewish communities through awareness events and facilitating evidence-based educational programming in schools for students and parents. Visit www.JewishCCSA.org for more information.