It is said that every person in Israel knows a family who has lost a son or husband in one of the far too-many wars Israel has fought since 1948. We may be getting to a time that the same may be said of a death from drug overdose.
Today in the U.S., drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, and deaths are rising faster than ever, primarily because of opioids.
And this is not some problem that our community is immune to. On the contrary. Too many of us know of a family who is fighting a hard battle with a son or daughter in drug rehab, or worse, has lost a son, daughter, nephew to a drug overdose.
With the President and Congress declaring an urgent priority of a national response to the rampant opioid addiction, Alex Azar III, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, recently said that his priority is to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and addiction therapy. Society, he said, should not treat addiction as a moral failing.
What is the community’s responsibility and response to drug addiction?
In 2016, 64,000 people died from Opioid related overdoses in the US. That is four times as many opioid related deaths as eight years earlier in 2008. Overdoses killed more people last year than guns or car accidents.
To put it in perspective, does this mean, trending forward, that in a few years there will be another four-fold increase and more than 250,000 young men and women will die from opioid related overdoses? That would surely mean going to many funerals of people we know. And love.
A recent story in the New York Times on Madison, Indianapolis, a small town of 12,000 people near the Ohio River highlights the urgency of this issue. It has the highest death rate from drug overdoses than any other county in the nation. A startling three-fold higher rate than the national average.
It’s easy for us to say, “Well, that’s over there. Madison, Indianapolis is far away from us, half way across the country.” Madison, Indianapolis may be far away, but drug overdoses are not. They are right here. In our city. In our community. In our neighbors’ homes. In our homes.
For eighty years, the ubiquitous 12-Step Program has been a bedrock for recovery from addictions for the individual and his or her family. Addicts have worked harder at their own recovery process than communities have worked on the acceptance and reintegration of these individuals back into the community.
Are you familiar with the 12 Step Program that addicts in recovery commit themselves to? Have you ever attended a 12 Step Program in support of someone you deeply care for?
Step 1 of the 12 Steps states: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable”.
Our community today is in the midst of an alarming increase in opiate and other addictions and death to drug overdose. In the last two years, literally, not a week or two has gone by that we in the professional community have not heard of the death of a young person, 16-30 years old, from a drug overdose.
An addict’s spiritual, emotional and physical recovery requires a comparable act by their micro communities, which include their family, extended family, their neighborhood and synagogue, as well as the macro community, meaning, the Jewish community as a whole. It is integral that the community recovery process includes accepting the individual in their battle, helping to stem an even further widespread community crisis and prevent more deaths.
I submit to you that in life and in general, everyone you meet is fighting some battle in their life. It likely involves much pain. It may be physical. Often emotional. Sometimes both.
And this is especially true for addicts.
And just as addicts commit themselves to full sobriety, to be clean, and reintegrate into a healthy society, so too does society, our community, need to better commit to fully accept addicts in their journey, in their struggle, in their battle for recovery.
An addict ready to recover casts off the pleasures and pain of drugs, immersing himself in a difficult, yet invigorating journey called 12-Step Recovery. So too should we as a community eradicate stigma and join these individuals in their recovery, encouraging them, thus lessening the pain of their journey and accept and reintegrate them into our friendships, families, and employment.
Step 8 of the 12 Steps states: “We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
If an addict goes through 12 Steps in their recovery, let me suggest 6 Steps for a Community. I choose 6 symbolically. It is half of 12, as the community has a less traveled, less painful road than the addict.
Just as there are peer support groups that play a crucial role in the recovery process for the individual addict including: AA Alcoholics Anonymous, NA Narcotics Anonymous, CA Cocaine Anonymous, GA Gamblers Anonymous, SA Sex Addicts Anonymous, we as a community should serve as a support group.
Imagine the difference for an addict in recovery to feel acceptance, not rejection, stigmatization, or shame. How do you put a price tag on this feeling?
You can’t. It’s priceless.
It’s a priceless dosage that brings comfort and healing and costs us nothing. And it’s our responsibility as individuals, as a community, to generously dispense.
In the addicts’ battles towards recovery, we can all step-up to be soldiers of comfort, understanding and acceptance.
Six steps for the Community Recovery Process.
1. Don’t Stigmatize – Shaming, gossiping or labeling the addict is a shortcut to their relapse.
2. Don’t be Judgmental – Someone you know or love can be that addict tomorrow.
3. Acknowledgement – Addiction happens in the best of families.
4. People in glass houses should not throw stones – Who is without fault?
5. Prevention – Invest time in your family. We cannot overemphasize the importance of communication with your children and teens. This also means understanding current trends, knowing how to speak with your kids and understanding warning signs.
6. Embrace and support the addict in recovery – Provide a job, include in Synagogue and social activities. Don’t isolate the addict.
Fifteen years ago, two thousand people gathered in Boro Park, Brooklyn to hear a community leader speak about cancer. He said that the time has come for people to stop referring to cancer as Yenah Machla, as “that disease”. We should not describe it in euphemism, by its capital letter “the C word”. He said we cannot be afraid to say the word cancer because it has unfortunately become so prevalent in the community and that shunning the word may keep people from taking the necessary tests for early detection and the necessary treatment that would be lifesaving. That evening’s speech was heard and understood as a seminal moment by the thousands in attendance and the many additional thousands who heard and read about it.
Our community has dramatically changed its perspective, its attitude, its language on cancer. So too, must we change our perspective on addictions, on opiates, on deaths from drug overdoses.
Those who have cancer openly discuss it and go to the best doctors, get the very best treatment, because we want to live. We want to see our children grow, we want to enjoy a healthy life. So too, we must speak more openly, more embracingly about drug addiction.
We leave it up to the individual person in recovery to attack it from within in their 12-Step recovery process and various methods to relapse prevention. It is our responsibility as a community to attack it from the outside by embracing it more closely to us and casting off that stigma.
We should view the current opioid crisis as a community requiring recovery in addition to the individual addict requiring recovery.
Our 6 Step Community Recovery process is an easier journey because our baseline is stronger. We don’t have to give up anything as an addict does.
We can achieve these six steps. One at a time. We really don’t have a choice. It is our children that we are talking about.
At every 12 Step meeting, several addicts in recovery will speak. Each will say his or her name and one sentence.
Hello, my name is Michael. I am an addict and I am clean 2 years 3 months 13 days,
or Hello, my name is Lisa. I am an addict and I am clean 9 years 7 months 2 days.
Step 10 of the 12 Steps states: “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
It’s past due time for us as a community to take personal inventory to acknowledge and accept addicts in recovery, our neighbors’ sons and daughters without stigma and without judgement.
We only need to take six steps.