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FOLLOW UP: Massive Community Response Following Op-Ed On YWN Regarding Roaring Drug Epidemic In Jewish Community

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The Yeshiva World

By - Zvi Gluck

Date - July 11, 2019

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It has been a flood of epic proportions.

That is the only way I can describe what has happened in my inbox in the few short days since we released an op-ed on YWN discussing the devastating number of overdoses and deaths that have befallen us and asking people to join Amudim in the fight against abuse and addiction.

Within 72 hours I personally received more than 700 positive emails from people asking how they could help Amudim, with another 200 supportive messages coming in on WhatsApp and social media.  Among those who responded were several individuals who have lost loved ones to addiction and had previously been afraid to speak up. There were also requests from countries including South Africa, Australia, England, Mexico and Israel, as well as all from across the United States, begging us to bring programming to their communities as we have done in numerous cities over the last several years.

הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי טוֹב, after five years, it seems that we as a community have finally turned a corner.  I intend to respond personally to every email and message as soon as humanly possible although it may take me some time to do so – right now our highest priority is to sort through all of the ideas and offers of support that have come in so that we can identify the most effective ways to bring about even more positive change.  As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we will be spending the next few weeks determining what additional projects we can put into play so that we can partner together in a united mission to make this world a better, healthier and safer place.

Our founder Mendy Klein z’l often said that while we don’t have all the answers, stepping back and asking questions can provide a greater understanding of our challenges, allowing us to formulate better solutions.  That approach has allowed Amudim to launch several initiatives that are already underway and can be further advanced with communal support and participation.  If you have any additional suggestions or ideas, please email them to me directly at [email protected] so that we can explore additional projects that will allow us to change lives and build futures.

Prevention:  It goes without saying that stopping problems before they even start would go a long way towards ending this seemingly endless game of Whac-A-Mole that we currently find ourselves playing.  First and foremost, we need to break the stigma associated with addiction so that the topic can freely be discussed.  Once those taboos have been eliminated, our schools need to join us and educate our kids to these dangers at the evidence based appropriate ages so that when temptations arise our children will be properly equipped to deal with it.

It’s alarming to note that we are seeing kids starting to drink alcohol at 12 and 13 years old and experimenting with drugs at 14 and 15, while most schools are still burying their collective heads in the sand and insisting that they are drug and alcohol free. We must work together with our schools, camps, parents and community to offer more in education and proper management when it comes to dealing with these realities.

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Awareness:  Time and time again we have seen that our public awareness events have been extremely productive, with those who are struggling and their family members realizing that they don’t have to go it alone.  Over time, we have developed a successful format, which includes opening remarks from a prominent community member discussing the realities of abuse and addiction on a local scale.  That speaker is typically followed by a close friend or family member of an addict sharing the pain and heartache that they have experienced, an effective method of waking up those who may still be in denial.  Finally, our events always end with heartfelt words of encouragement from someone in recovery, proving by example that help is available and that people can overcome this and be thriving and productive members of society.

Debunking the Myths:  Misinformation about addiction is everywhere.  As much as Amudim and many others have continuously spread the message that addiction is a disease, there are still those who feel that there is no reason to help those who are struggling because their problems are of their own making.  I have said these words many times and I will repeat them here – no one chooses to become an addict.  We need to educate people to the realities of addiction so that we can embrace those who are struggling instead of looking down at them.

Support:  Those who have gotten mired in the web of addiction need our support, compassion and empathy, and it is up to us to ensure that they get help in the most economical way possible.  Rehab is an effective way of addressing deep rooted problems and while Amudim services have always been provided at no charge, the price tag for quality rehab can be prohibitive, especially when there are those who require multiple stays.  We need to have treatment options available that won’t bankrupt families, preferably relatively close to home, so that those in crisis can get the help they need.

Family Support:  For every person struggling with addiction, there are multiple others who are also going through a difficult period.  Parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends are all deeply affected when a loved one is ill and it is important to be understanding, thoughtful and offer support in order to help them as needed.

Support Groups:  The time has come for our shuls and JCCs to open their doors and host 12 Step, Al Anon and other similar meetings in our communities. These programs provide tremendous encouragement to those dealing with addiction and their families and should become part of the fabric of our communities.  Similarly, we need to create support groups for those who are struggling, as well as their friends and families, because the healing process is far more effective surrounded by support.

Narcan Training and Distributions:  Over the past two years Amudim has distributed over 3,800 free Narcan kits, with over 300 lives saved from those efforts.  We need to continue providing these trainings and distributing more kits so that an even greater number of people are equipped to reverse the deadly effects of an opioid overdose.

This list is just a start. It was Shlomo Hamelech who said in Koheles “וְהַחוּט֙ הַֽמְשֻׁלָּ֔שׁ לֹ֥א בִמְהֵרָ֖ה יִנָּתֵֽק” reminding us that when we join together we become a mighty force that is capable of accomplishing great things. I thank you in advance for your participation and support and am confident that together we can change lives and build futures.

Zvi Gluck is the director of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community and has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 19 years.  For more information go to www.amudim.org.

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