The opioid epidemic: A Jewish call for healing

Michael Faccini, MSW, LMSW, Mental Health Care Manager, is starting a new recovery group for the Jewish community on Aug. 7. Recovery at JF&CS will meet Tuesdays 6-7:30 p.m. until Sept. 4, with plans to reconvene after Sukkot. To learn more, contact Faccini at 314-812-9307.

By Michael Faccini

We are in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic that, according to the CDC, is taking an average of 115 lives every day. There are 20.1 million Americans 12 or older who live with a substance use disorder, amounting to 1 person in 12 living with addiction, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A Pew Research Center study in 2017 noted nearly half of the population has a friend or family member living with a drug addiction. The scope of addiction is massive.

As a Jewish community, we like to think we’re immune, but we’re not. According to Rabbi Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim, there were 143 known opioid-related deaths of Orthodox Jews under age 35 in one year alone. That is just the tip of the iceberg of addiction and shows addiction at its most severe. Under the surface are the people using alcohol or drugs to numb their daily stress, the young adult that avoids social events and holidays because she worries the culture of drinking will cause a relapse, and the worker who finds himself unable to stop the pain medication he started for an injury. They, too, are the 1 in 12 and they include your friends, family, neighbors and members of your synagogue. 

Recognizing that the Jewish community experiences addiction will help support people in their recovery. Jews in recovery face unique challenges. The perception that existing services are Christian-focused is one of the biggest. I recently spoke to a rabbi who identified this as a reason why some of her congregants are not getting support for their recovery. We need to grow services that are going to feel accessible to the Jewish community. This means investing in and increasing awareness of existing options that are more clearly not affiliated with religion, such as SMART Recovery. It also means creating new services targeted toward the Jewish community, with options that are not spiritually or religiously focused, as well as options that are. The Jewish community has the potential to be a tremendous support for recovery. We need to work toward making that potential a reality.