Synagogues Unite To Address The Drug Crisis

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Part 2 of a 2-part series on how local temples have come together to combat overdoses and the stigma of substance addiction

Shaare Zion Synagogue hosted an educational event with a powerful and effective message on Sunday, June 24: Substance abuse addiction is prevalent, but well hidden throughout our community—and help is available for individuals and families who are suffering.

Help Is Available

Throughout the presentation, Rabbi Zvi Gluck of Amudim, who has led nearly 40 awareness events regarding this issue, emphasized the availability of substance abuse treatment programs, many of which are free or low cost. He praised the efficacy of free 12-step programs, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and others. These treatments are effective for individuals and their families who need help.

According to Gluck, nearly a dozen such programs, which hold meetings two to three times per week, are available within a two-mile radius of Great Neck. Many of them are offered in local churches, and he encouraged the mostly Orthodox Jewish audience to avail themselves of these services.

“Every rabbi I have spoken to has said it is OK to attend meetings in a church,” noted Gluck. “Because of the stigma, synagogues are not holding AA meetings, but that needs to change. It must change.”

One audience member, a mother of seven, asked about how to deal with the prevalence of drug use among teenagers. Another audience member asked about the signs of drug addiction. Gluck cautioned the attendees against dealing with the problem on their own.

“Seek professional help if you are not sure what to do,” encouraged Gluck. “You can save a neighbor or friend’s life. You can contact LICADD [Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence]. Whatever you do, do not try to handle it on your own. Don’t be
an enabler. Don’t ignore the problem.”

He spoke of a case he was involved with, in which a Jewish mother of eight children had hidden her addiction for more than 16 years, right under the nose of her entire community. Finally, neighbors intervened to get her help and likely “saved her from certain death.”

Gluck discussed another instance of a very successful man, who was a leader in his community. These examples show that people who are addicts are not “junkies” but ordinary, good people who have a treatable disease that is hidden.

A member of the audience asked about the cost of treatment for drug addicts. Gluck responded that this is a very common concern, and in-patient treatment “beds” can be very costly.

But, many people are not aware that medical insurance plans often cover the full cost of treatment. In fact, Gluck often serves as an insurance advocate to help families navigate the tricky process of getting coverage.

“The cost of treatment can be too expensive for many families,” said Rabbi Yosef Lipsker. “This is a reality. But, we can try to help. We will refer you to help.”

Gluck added, “Jews are quick to raise funds for a funeral or many other worthy causes. Jewish people are charitable and generous when it comes to helping others. But, they
do not always allocate necessary funds to help families with treatment. Maybe we should call it a Pre-Funeral Fund instead of a Treatment Fund.”

As to the widespread nature of the problem in Jewish communities, Amudim receives as many as 200 calls a day from all over America and all over the world.

“Substance abuse is occurring at increasing rates among Jews, but not just in Great Neck, Crown Heights and New York. I am getting calls from other countries, including Manchester, England. The problem is everywhere, all over the world,” noted Gluck, who went on to cite well-known statistics. “Every day, there are 24 deaths from overdose, thousands of deaths every year, and many in the Jewish community. But, you will never hear anyone admit to this. They will say aneurysm. They will say heart attack. They will never admit it is substance abuse.”

The Police Are Here to Help Families

Detective Nicholas Stillman of the Nassau County Narcotics and Vice Squad (left) is with community leaders, including Rabbi Yosef Lipsker of Chabad in Pennsylvania, Rabbi Zvi Gluck of Amudim, Karen Curtin of Caron Rehab and Rebecca Sassouni, president of SHAI and Great Neck Public Schools trustee.

Nassau County Narcotics and Vice Squad Detective Nicholas Stillman spoke of the important role law enforcement has in eradicating substance abuse and addiction.

First, he presented an overview of the current opioid crisis, which has affected so many Great Neck families.

“In the 1980s in Nassau County, there was a prevalence of crack cocaine, and the response by law enforcement was to arrest the users and dealers,” said Stillman. “We called the users ‘junkies.’ Today, in Nassau County, our response is very different. We prioritize treatment, and we work with the diversion programs and courts to get addicts into treatment. We are cracking down on the dealers, including doctors who serve as drug dealers. They are no better than murderers.”

Stillman explained the police department’s multi-pronged approach in dealing with the opioid crisis: 1. Awareness; 2. Education; 3. Police enforcement; and 4. Diversion and treatment.

In working with individuals and families, the goal is intervention and treatment, not criminal prosecution. This is a very new approach compared to the past.

“We follow up with the families,” noted Stillman. “We visit the defendants at home. We want make sure they stay in treatment and offer our support.”

He warned that opioids and today’s heroin are much more easily accessible than ever before. They can be snorted, with no needles.

Parents in Great Neck cannot afford to be complacent. With the advent of legal marijuana, juules and vaping, using drugs is more available, easier to use and in plain sight more than ever before. The difference is that marijuana can be laced with fentanyl, an elephant tranquilizer that can kill even a first-time user if the dose is too high. One dose can kill. One night of partying with friends can be the user’s last day on Earth.

All of the speakers commended the efforts of the police and law enforcement, as well as paramedics and EMTs. These first responders are there to help and to work with families. Police are not the enemy. They are part of the resources available in the community to combat the epidemic of substance abuse and overdose.

Prevention Is the Cure

All of the speakers agreed that education, awareness and prevention are the solution to the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction. This is especially needed in Jewish schools, starting in middle school.

Gluck spoke of a conversation he had with the head of a yeshiva, who said that he could not do a drug-awareness program, unless “all of the other yeshivas also had similar programs. ‘We can’t be known as the only school that has a drug program,’ the administrator said, ‘because people will think our students are using drugs. It will hurt our reputation.’”

Gluck scoffed at this notion, saying, “Every school should be addressing the issue, no matter what the other schools are doing.”

Furthermore, it is a myth that the problem is mostly found in young males. Today, the issue of addiction is found in all ages and genders. In response to questions from the audience about the signs and symptoms of addiction, the speakers offered the following advice: Look for changes in behavior, look for changes in hygiene and notice changes in spending habits. If you see anything alarming, report it to someone who can help. At schools, tell the students they will not get in trouble for raising a concern about drug use. The goal is to help, not harm.

In the past year, many diverse groups in Great Neck have played a role in spreading awareness about the crisis of drug addiction in the community. In November 2017, North Shore Action moderated an expert panel regarding the opioid crisis, which was sponsored by the Great Neck Public Schools and SHAI.

Vigilant Fire Company has offered Narcan training, as have other groups. The Mashadi Synagogue has also held awareness events. The public schools in Great Neck regularly offer education and support to students and parents with the help of LICADD and the Long Island Crisis Center. COPAY in Great Neck is a valuable resource and several local churches offer free group meetings on a weekly basis.

All of these organizations have information and resources available to the community. If you need help, ask for it. If you see someone who needs help, don’t look away. We are one community.

If you missed Part 1, read it here.

Jacqueline Harounian, who recently earned a graduate degree in behavioral forensic psychology and is a trained victims advocate at The Safe Center, is a regular contributor to the Great Neck Record.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you, Shaare Zion Synagogue for bringing awareness of the drug crisis to the Jewish Community. Addiction can happen to anyone and there is nothing to be ashamed of. We need to all come together to help others to heal. Rabbi Zvi Gluck of Amudim has the correct message- Help is there. Accept it. Go get it.

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