Op-Ed By YWN: Drug (Opioid) Crisis Spiraling Out Of Control In Frum Communities – What Are We Doing About It?

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President Trump took a bold move on Thursday by declaring the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency, and announcing new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic”, Trump said.

While President Trump should be commended for his actions today, it’s sad that many people in our communities have yet to awaken and grasp the magnitude of how this crisis is affecting our community.

The fact is, speak to any therapist, and you will very quickly learn that the drug crisis in the Frum is exploding. Many people think their families will never be affected, and many others feel that this topic should remain quiet and be dealt with privately. Unfortunately, the “remaining quiet” and “dealing with it quietly” tactics were tried already the way molestation was dealt with in the past 50 years. We all know where that ended up….

Thankfully, molestation is a topic that has been brought to the forefront and children are being educated to be aware of predators. People have been reporting pedophiles to the police, and abusers have been locked away. Large forums have been held in the most insular communities such as Lakewood, where parents have been given an education about pedophilia.

But now it’s time for us to grab the bull by the horns regarding the drug crisis. There is no reason why more lives need to be lost.

At a recent Kiddush in a very prominent Shul led by a very prominent Rov, there was a table where the men were eating “edibles”. This is not a fantasy or made up story. This happened in the past few weeks. Do you even know what “edibles” are? Do you know that boys can be smoking an E-Cig with “wax” (synthetic marijuana), and there will be virtually no smell? So basically, your child can be smoking what you think is an E-Cig – but meanwhile be taking drugs in your own home?

Hopefully the following points will be read by all of you, and taken to heart.

* Close to 90 Frum people have died from overdoses since January 2017. This is an indisputable but horrific fact. (One Rov who seems to be in denial about this crisis asked me recently “have you seen the death certificates?” after I informed him of the spiraling number of opioid deaths.)

* Many of the overdoses are not teens as most people think they are. The victims are grown men and women – many with wonderful jobs and families. That is a misconception that people make. The drug problem is not “teens” or “kids at risk”. The drug crisis is affecting people of all ages, and it doesn’t discriminate. From Chabad to Satmar, from Lakewood to Los Angeles, from Chicago to Deal. It is a real serious problem, and it’s getting worse.

* Hatzolah and other EMS agencies around the United States have used Narcan hundreds upon hundreds of times since last January in Frum communities – and as many as TEN TIMES THIS WEEK ALONE, saving the lives of hundreds of potential drug overdose deaths.

* There are thousands of Frum people in “recovery”; who are constantly going to meetings and working hard on themselves to stay sober. This may sound shocking, but can you believe that men on Yom Kippur attended meetings for addiction while wearing their “Kitals”? If you are struggling with addiction – please seek help.

* Amudim has been at the forefront working on educating the public. Some people are very receptive, while others continue to remain silent, and ignore this crisis. Many educational events were held the past few years. At one recent event held in Ateres Chynka in Flatbush, every single Rov in Flatbush was invited and asked to attend. Only ONE Rov attended besides the prominent Rosh Yeshiva who spoke at the event. That speaks volumes as to how much in denial our community is in. For example in Monsey, some major organizations continue to refuse to publicly acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, even working to prevent forums from being held where people can be educated. This is despite the fact that 14 lives were lost in the past year alone.

Think about this for a minute. Many organizations (rightfully) publish an incredible amount of literature before each Purim warning of the dangers of excessive drinking on Purim. How many people died the past 30 years from drinking or drinking related deaths on Purim? Under 10. That number is terrible – as every life is precious. But compare that to NINETY DEATHS THIS PAST YEAR ALONE AND HUNDREDS MORE SAVED FROM OVERDOSES! Why are these organizations remaining silent! This is Pikuach Nefashos!

When will we finally awaken and be as bold as President Trump and declare and admit that we have an opioid crisis like we never have seen before?

There are way too many people still in denial, and way too many lives being destroyed and even worse – lost R”L.

YWN Editorial Board.

24 COMMENTS

  1. I know of a prominent rav who responded to this epidemic by saying ! שומר פתים השם. I wonder what he will say when one of his kids gets hooked god forbid

  2. I commented on another thread on this site, and will summarize my message here. I do challenge the magnitude of the crisis, nor the call to arms to take this very seriously. But the label “Opioid Crisis” may be a distraction. Actually, the crisis is far more broad, and includes many other drugs of abuse, as well as alcohol. The overdose deaths can easily involve cocaine or other drugs, sometimes combinations of drugs or with alcohol that produce a lethal effect.

    The Jewish community has been in perpetual denial for a long time, and the situation has improved only microscopically over the past several decades. Focusing on opioids diverts the attention needed to alcohol abuse, which has reared its ugly head after having been unnoticed for a while. It is easy in many shuls for men or boys to come home from a kiddush completely wrecked. DUI arrests are estimated to be about one out of every 70 instances in which someone is driving under the influence. Granted, Shabbos might be a respite from that, but the safety of our roads is heavily impacted.

    Since the frum community is expert and experienced at hiding much, it is easy to see why denial and secrecy keeps this subject away from our media. Our awareness is limited. The classic denial messages include, “It doesn’t happen here”, “It’s not really that bad”, “Aw c’mon, people need a break, let them have a drink”, etc. I have yet to find a basis to allow a Kiddush Club in any shul anywhere. It is a goyish event, even if it follows musaf, rather than the typical mid-musaf party. Peruse what occurs in the average frum liquor store. Watch the volumes of expensive liquors flying off the shelves. Watch how many people kiddush hop, risking being present and sober for the Shabbos seuda. I do, and it frightens me all the time.

    If parents can imbibe liquor, why should the kids not partake of their drug of choice? What’s the modeled message?

    If a kid gets arrested for drug possession, what should parents do? Bail him out and cover it up, or not?

    BTW, death certificates are unlikely to specify drug overdose. Ask anyone who participates in the process. It will refer to cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, etc., and does not need to identify the cause behind that. Thus, this information tells no one anything about the problem. Ask Hatzoloh, ask Amudim, ask doctors who regularly address these issues.

    We have a crisis, and there is too little attention being paid to prevention and help.

  3. Marijuana is not an opioid and at this point (e.g., in a few years it will be legal in most states) should receive the same (if not better) societal treatment as alcohol.

    From the NIDA website: “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.”

    Your reference to men at a kiddush enjoying edibles is a sign of the “progressiveness” of the current times and can be viewed as very similar to men consuming hard alcohol (and by the way abuse of alcohol can be far more dangerous than abuse of marijuana); it has absolutely nothing to do with the “opioid crisis”.

  4. Forgive me please for not feeling bad for a drug abuser who created his own mess. If you want to call it denial go ahead. Obviously I’m all for helping them but to put this problem on the community is not fair. I’ll take the liberty to quote the great Ronald Reagan (or was it Nancy?) “just say no to drugs”

  5. Machal Man:

    I question whether the “Opioid Crisis” is just a phase of the ongoing “Drug Crisis”. There are unique issues to each of the abused drugs, and opioids have theirs which need to be addressed. Those I knew who were drug abusers defined their drug of choice as “More”. Today it’s the opiates, tomorrow it’s something else. If we limit the scope too much, we’ll excuse and miss what needs to be done about the other drugs of abuse.

    You are correct in noting that marijuana is not an opioid. And, for the most part, it does not cause physical dependency. But the amount of impairment it causes is severe, though not dramatic. It lacks the flash of cocaine and opiates. But it basically gives a guarantee that one will fail to achieve his/her potential. That should be pretty bad, even if not newsworthy.

    Anon21:

    You might find it interesting and mind opening to attend some meetings of the substance based 12-step groups. Addictions are a disease. The role of personal responsibility was certainly there, but only at the beginning. Once inside the matter, the person has lost ability to control. The “Just Say No” message from the Reagan era (attributed to Nancy Reagan) has some a tiny window of effectiveness. The addict cannot say no. Not all addicts accept treatment, and that is unfortunate. But they are seriously ill.

  6. Anon21’s comment is the reason that community leaders have a hard time addressing this problem. They don’t view drug users as victims, but rather as people with a self inflicted problem. The community tends to view mental illness in the same way, as if the sufferer is to blame. Rather than have rachmanus, they judge. I give all the deniers a bracha that they should never feel the pain that brings a person to start doing drugs in the first place.

    I think the reason the rabbi asked for the death certificate was not because he expected the death certificate to state that it was a drug overdose. I think his point was that since he didn’t hear of all these people passing away, it must not have happened. He won’t believe that they passed away unless someone saw the death certificates. (Which is quite closeminded if I am correct.)

  7. Wow those numbers are staggering!
    In order to raise awareness I would recommend a lot more specific and verifiable info.
    People usually say that it’s not in their immediate community, so more details would be beneficial.

  8. Thank you Amudim for being on the cutting edge of Klal Yisrael’s Issues. I commend you on going into the dirt to pick up our truly suffering brothers and sisters.

    We need you we need them.

    With Love from EY,

    Yaakov

  9. My name is Shlomo Rivkin. I was a drug addict.At the age of 13 I started drinking alcohol. At the age of 14 I started smokin marijuana. At the age of 15 I started using Xanax, cocaine, numerous forms of opioids, MDMA, adderal, ketamine, lsd etc….. I have tried to get clean many many many times every attempt was another failure no matter how severe the consequences were. I was empty, miserable and addicted to drugs. I have sought out many rabbis as well as therapists and addiction specialists. None of their suggestions worked. Relapse after relapse. By the age of 16 I went to an inpatient rehab program. I was the only Jew there. Swallowed by the secular world I found myself more and more lost in this world. I was in this program for a bit over 4 months. 5 days later I had relapsed. I sat in my bed for months straight hoping that hashem would take my life in my sleep. Contemplating the idea of suicide every single day. There was no purpose for me to live. Almost another year later I went to a program in Miami called Torah and the twelve steps. Naturally I was very resistant to the feedback I was receiving. All my life I thought I knew better than everyone , I did not know what it meant to close my mouth and listen. After a little bit of time being there through the strength of a group of ex addicts speaking with me hammering home many truths about myself I opened up and accepted. The program was smooth sailing from there. A short while later I graduated. I have been clean from drugs and alcohol for almost 4 years now. I no longer think of drugs and alcohol. I can proudly say I am frum today. I have great relationships with my family members today. I am a functional, stable and productive member of society today. I would have never been able to do this with out the power of hashem. I was hopeless faced with misery and relapse for the rest of my life I had no other option but to turn to the one who has all power the infinite HASHEM. Once I was open to the idea of connecting with hashem I realized HASHEM IS WHAT I HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!!!! That emptiness to life which I had felt was due to a spiritual disconnection I was to selfish to let HASHEM play a factor in my life I was the alpha and omega in my life. I pushed hashem away. Secular treatment centers have a success rate of 3-4% that stay clean within the first year!!!! Secular treatment centers deny the power of hashem!!! They tell you that you have the power you can fix it!!!!! That Is why they have such low success because Human Resources are incapable of helping a drug addict HASHEM IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE A DRUG ADDICT!!! WHY DO WE SEND TO SECULAR REHABS?!?!?! IS OUR TORAH INSUFFICIENT?!?!?! DOES IT NOT HOLD THE ANSWERS TO ALL?!?!?!? The way a drug addict gets better and the way I got better is through something simply known as TESHUVA!!!!! I have lost to many friends due to drug addiction and due to misguided help. The numbers of deaths in the Jewish community is insane.
    Again my name is Shlomo Rivkin.
    If anyone would like to contact me to ask any questions feel free. Here is my cell phone number. 305-849-9978

  10. There is truly an opiod epidemic sweeping through America today. They are from the most addictive drugs out there and it’s very easy to become hooked. Most rehab patients today are addicted to opiods as opposed to harder street drugs. There are a larger number of people addicted to pain killers than heroin and cocaine combined.
    At the same time, while I’m not condoning the use of marijuana , it is not physically addictive nor has any danger of overdosing. If not for the fact that it is illegal to use in most states , it would be looked at in the same light as alcohol. Kind of silly to speak about it in the same sentence as opiods.
    Also, marijuana that is vaped as wax is not synthetic marijuana which is chemically made – rather it’s natural marijuana concentrate which the FDA approves of for a vast array of medial conditions

  11. Just one thought; here in Israel the same problem exists but probably at a lower prevalence. Many parents of young children try to fill up their childrens’ day as fully as possible with after school activities : sports, special interest clubs, etc. They hope that this may help keep them out of the drug culture by being too busy to look for other activity.

  12. How does our community think they can get a handle on this issue when there isn’t even the will to ban smoking among our youth especially at our finest Yeshivas. Smoking and alcohol are gateway drugs. Next comes marijuana and then it leads to cocaine and heroin. I wrote about this on YWN nine years ago. http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/general/29548/out-of-the-mailbag-speaking-out-against-smoking-in-yerushalyim.html and http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/coffeeroom/topic/speaking-out-against-smoking-in-yerushalyim Has anything changed. If we allow a young innocent boy of 13 to spend 8+ years in Yeshiva and somehow pick up smoking along the way what do we expect.

  13. not to take away from the severity of this quiet killer its just funny how when you say “everyone goes to a hotel for pesach” the response is “don’t call 5% everyone, its small minority, most people on average cannot afford it” but when it comes a problem (shidduch, tuition, opioids, OTD) people rant and rave about how its swallowing up the whole community and no one isn’t affected. Thankfully I know very little about amudim and hope I never learn more and as Mr. Gluck himself says – we all hope they go out of business soon – but let’s all chill out a bit. Here’s why. Even if the numbers are alarming this is a long process and a lot to undo so all this screaming won’t help a soul. Second of all, if someone has illness and gets painkillers maybe they’ll be numb but the illness will not be addressed. Clearly something smells rotten and as they say in Yiddish when a fish smells, it smells from the head. There is so much wrong and screwed up with our culture and mores and people feel so helpless that the only way out is to numb the pain to just stop caring.

  14. Someone I’m close with worked for many years in a WIC program that serviced several frum areas. One of the questions that they are required to ask is whether there are drugs in the family, with the caveat that the information is confidential and no one will be informed about it. She always says that you will be shocked how common pain killer abuse is. There’s one women who would come year after year every time she was having a new baby and at one point she admitted that she regularly takes non-prescribed painkillers and it’s the only way she gets through her day.

    People don’t realize how the body simultaneously builds a resistance and dependency to opiods, and it’s a very small but common move from regular doses of Oxycodone to increased dosages just to get a fix until they are depending on injections of street drugs just to stay sane one day to the next.

  15. There is a fantastic and phenomenal NEW government approved ADDICTION program (drugs, alcohol, gambling etc.) especially geared for the frum community (and most confidential and discreet) located in Boro Park. It is called JOURNEYS. It is located at 1049 – 38 Street, Brooklyn, New York (between Fort Hamilton and 10th Avenue). It has the haskama of Rabbaoinm and Roshei Yeshivaos.

    They heard the need … and came to fill it… here and now.

  16. We all must agree that after a person is hooked, there is not much to do, in the matter of awareness.
    So it all starts in earlier stages, when they are still consuming Alcohol (excessively and frequently) and marijuana.

    But there are these marijuana pushers (the ones trying to exclude it from the issue at hand) out there, who are part of the problem. as once a person turns to them to solve their problems, and alleviate their pressures, they will move on to the next level going forward.

    In my poor mind, it’s rather the marijuana pushers who are at great fault at this. As what impact does a rabbi or parent have over the youngsters who know better that “marijuana is not a problem at All”.

    A rabbi can get up and deliver a great speech about negativity of being Doped ( in any form), but the problem mainly persists mostly by people that know better, or by people influenced by friends that know better. These are people that don’t listen to authority at all.

    So let’s not blame the community leaders, but instead change our own mindset, that getting intentionally Doped or Carzy is bad!! and is not the same as just getting a little high by consuming 1 cup of Alcohol etc..

  17. Shlomo Rivkin:

    You are a gibor. I am in awe of your accomplishment.

    You would be far more effective than any therapist in helping frum addicts, because you have been there, all the way down, and you have triumphed. Maybe that’s your tafkid.

  18. The real reason why opioids are the big problem in our kehillos is because it’s possible for a non-drinking, non-smoking, Torah-learning father of 8 (or bubbe with 20 einiklech, or the shtarkest bochur in yeshiva) to get hooked unintentionally on heroin.

    Here’s how: painkillers. The father of 8 is involved in a car accident, the bubbe gets persistent arthritis, the bochur gets a slipped disc dancing at a chasuna. Let’s say they have poor insurance, or great insurance but a overworked doctor. So instead of getting real treatment like expensive physio therapy, the doctor proscribes Oxycodone, oxytocin, or even regular coedine.

    The pills provide relief, but they’ve only been given a certain dose and once that’s over the pain returns. The father can’t work, the bubbe can’t enjoy her day, the bochur can’t learn. It’s too much. So they pester the doc for more, or go to a medicine gemach.

    In some of the cases, unwittingly they get hooked. Once hooked, they are an addict. They cannot rationalize, cannot control, cannot resist. It’s no longer bechirah, it’s just a uncontrollable need.

    The father finds he needs the pills to function, the bubbe thinks there’s nothing wrong with these pills when she takes about 10 pills for other ailments daily anyway and the bochur knows that without pills he’ll feel terribly sick, start shaking and needs to pop another … just to get through another day.

    Once the source of pills stop, they discover a guy who’s can give them fen***** and once they discover pills don’t satisfy, they start inhaling, then snorting, then …

    It’s a short road from severe pain and accidental dependence on opiod painkillers to heroin.

    And it can and does effect “der shentzer in der bester mishpuchos”.

    Wake up yidden!

  19. Reading Shlomo Rivkin’s riveting account of his odyssey in solving one of the hardest thing to get out of,was incredible to read.
    I can only hope that Shlomo will tell his story to the whole world,and help those that are unfortunately afflicted in what he had,as he has the key to getting out and starting anew.
    I also want to thank YNW,for bringing this painful subject to light,as it seems to be some hot potato that people would rather not talk about.
    But this situation must not be ignored,as indeed as the article pointed out so succinctly that every Jewish live is so precious,and too many have payed the painful price due to these drugs.