Let me be the first to admit that I am not a math person, yet, unfortunately, it seems that right now my life has been all about numbers.
For those of you who have been spared the pain that has devastated klal yisroel since mid-June, let me fill you in on what has been taking place in Jewish communities all over the United States. Over a three week period, drug overdoses killed nine of our own, with six more remaining in comas as I write these words. Another 17 overdoses had more positive outcomes, baruch Hashem, with Narcan successfully reviving those victims, but without proper treatment I can’t honestly tell you that any of those individuals are really out of the woods.
Without fail, every time I share statistics like this, I get flak from people who suggest that I am making a chilul Hashem by publicly acknowledging that there is a severe drug problem in the frum community. It should come as no surprise that those claims come from people who know little about the realities of abuse and addiction. I can tell you one thing – they definitely don’t come from the friends or loved ones of those whose lives were cut tragically short, who know all too well just how horrific and far reaching this plague really is.
Allow me to set the record straight for those who believe that discussing these deaths embarrasses the Jewish community. A June 2019 National Safety Council report estimated that at least 100 people die every day from drug overdoses, with other reports putting that number at 300. While the death rate in the Jewish community is significantly lower than national averages, we can’t exactly pat ourselves on the back and pretend we are doing okay while people continue to die and families are crying endless tears. The Torah mandate of lo saamod al dam reyecha makes it crystal clear that even one death is one too many and each and every one of us is halachically obligated to take action when Jewish lives are being lost.
There is no doubt that as a community we are true gomlei chesed. From Hatzolah to Bikur Cholim to Tomchei Shabbos and more, we have proven time and time again that we stand united and are there for those who need help. Millions of dollars in resources have been poured into these incredible organizations, as well as into our schools, shuls and other vital institutions and yet in certain areas we are still falling short. I cannot understand why we have embraced those who struggle with cancer while so many still turn a blind eye to those who struggle with mental illness, drug addiction, sexual abuse and suicidality. Are those people less a part of our community? Have we written them off completely because these problems make us feel uncomfortable? It pains me to no end to know that we have had to waitlist people who have reached out to us for help because without sufficient communal support we simply don’t have the resources to provide for them.
I’m willing to bet that you’d be surprised if you knew who the people who came to us were. For the most part, people assume that those who are struggling with drug addictions are the kind of individuals that make you want to cross the street when you see them coming down the block, or angry teenagers with chips on their shoulders, but that is far from true. I can’t even begin to count how many clients have come to us, hooked on painkillers that were legally prescribed to them after a medical procedure, or students who abused their prescription ADHD meds to get through a grueling finals schedule. Others are individuals who experienced some kind of trauma who are just looking to numb the pain so that they can get through life; I promise you the list goes on and on.