May 17, 2018
Community Targets Opioid Addiction
Photos: Itzik Roytman

Members of the Jewish and African American communities joined elected officials to fight the opioid epidemic in Crown Heights.

“If I needed to get help right now — I wouldn’t know who to call,” said Sara Benjamin, who lost her son, Kasriel to an overdose six years ago, on the stage of Operation Survival’s Opioid Epidemic Conference at The Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights Wednesday evening. That, is precisely why fighting stigma, raising awareness, and coming together as a community to learn what can be done, is so critical when it comes to saving lives.

Attendees from both the Jewish Hassidic and the African American communities alongside elected officials (State Senator Jesse Hamilton, Assemblywoman Diana C. Richardson, Majority Council Leader Laurie Combo, and District Leader Jeffery Davis) showed up to learn how to help fight the opioid crisis that has taken over America. “Only by working together, we can stop this crisis,” Rabbi Yaacov Behrman of Operation Survival, that has been working together with Rabbi Shea Hecht, Director of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, to fight addiction for decades, opened the community-wide Conference last night.

“In order to help addicts, one must first understand addiction”, stated Dr. Brian F. Sands, Section Chief for Substance Use Veteran Affairs (NY). He explained that individuals who are socially isolated, unhappy, with no clear goals in life or proper emotional support, are at high risk to develop addiction, stressing that “teenagers are more easily addicted than adults,” and shared a few alarming statistics:

56% of addicts found the drugs they started with in the family medicine cabinet.
16 years of age is when the average user starts taking pills. By the time they reach 20, the majority of addicts will experience an overdose.
25% of people on prescription pain killers will move on to heroin when they can’t access pills due to the high costs in the street.

In response, Dr. Susan Whitely, Director of the Chemical Dependency Services at Kings County Hospital, shared 3 strategies that city agencies have changed in the past years, to combat the problem of opioid addiction:

Monitoring prescriptions to 7 days (used to be 30 days).
Connecting users to care.
Distribution of Naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.

Why the change in attitude?

Over the past 7 years, there has been a significant and constant rise in overdose related deaths in New York City, causing agencies and elected officials as one to change their strategies when it comes to treating addiction. Jill Harris, Policy and Strategy Counsel to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, shared with attendees the change in attitude: “Shame prevents people from getting help, because we criminalize drug use, and the major shift in the legal system has been to treat such cases as a health issue, a disease, and avoid criminal charges that pose even more obstacles for those who struggle with addiction since a criminal record will prevent them from getting a job, which will lead to low self esteem, and send them back on the path to using.”

Susan Herman, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Collaborative Policing, stressed that “mental health goes with addiction”, and officers have been trained to use Naloxone — saving 280 lives in 2017. Yet, the numbers of deaths are still rising (1441 total in NYC in 2017, 350 in Brooklyn alone — more than homicides and car accidents combined).

In response, the “Good Samaritan Law” has been introduced by NYPD: Nobody will be arrested for calling 911 during an overdose. In addition, 2 new treatment centers to open in 2018 — as an option instead of actual arrest due to drug use — which will result in no record of even being there as long as you agree to get said treatment.

Amongst the city officials who took the stage, Patricia Zuber Wilson from OASAS shared with the crowd that she is well aware of the stigma and the secrets people hide about addiction, from personal experience within her own family. Recently, New York has increased the budget to fight addiction, and will be opening a new 24/7 access center in Brooklyn cause “Addicts don’t decide to get help or OD only during regular business hours”.

At last night’s event, Senator Jesse Hamilton announced he has managed to secure $50,000 from OASAS for Operation Survival’s programs in the community.

Meanwhile, when an addict gets taken into custody by NYPD, the arresting officer notifies CLEAR, a treatment center for addiction, and a peer counselor arrives to assist both addict and police avoid criminal charges for what is recognized as an illness. Jay Mcray, 66 from Harlem, a former addict in recovery, stressed the importance of peer counseling from his personal experience, saying that at his toughest moments, professionals don’t do the trick: “Give me an addict to talk to, not a doctor”. He also confirmed what the specialists spoke about in theory by admitting he started using drugs at an early age because “I didn’t like who I was”, after surviving a fire and being left with visual scars, and that addiction is a slow controlled death, “What an overdose really is, is you’re trying to commit suicide to stop the pain.” McCray is now a substance abuse counselor who volunteers at several organizations across the NYC boroughs, using his experience to help others.

So what can community members do? Assembly member Diana Richardson summed up the evening perfectly: “The most important thing is having real conversations with the people around you, because things like depression lead to addiction, and remember — not to judge those who come forward asking for help”.

As for Sara Benjamin’s question, who to call in an emergency, New York City has set up a hotline to help combat mental illness and addiction, replacing what used to be just a suicide prevention hotline. If you or a loved one is suffering, please call: 1-800-NYC-WELL

Video: Replay of live stream

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Opinions and Comments
There is a way to get these kids help early
I want to say that if we had more help in Chabad schools for children with emotional and behavioral needs they wouldn't later need to look to drugs to manage them. We know who these kids are the impulsive ones being diagnosed with ADHD, the anxious ones that worry about everything but can't tell you their stomach hurts, their hearts are racing, the kids who can't control their anger and lash out at others.

These are also the ones that have suffered sexual abuse and have no one to talk to because they are afraid of rejection. These kids are recognizable at young ages if you look at your children honestly and get your kids the help they need regardless of the stigma it will cause your family.
(5/16/2018 7:20:59 PM)
Extra help is insanely costly
Besides for tuition. Help, therapist and counseling and evaluations are extremely costly. Completely over budgets .
(5/16/2018 8:25:47 PM)
BS"D I'm not a denier but "dozens", I sure hope not, although even one is too many
(5/16/2018 8:53:36 PM)
I was there
A highly informative & serious program addressing a deep problem that we share as a community. We learned about resources for family & friends of those who are suffering. The speakers were clearly intelligent, devoted and accomplished in their field. Yasher koach (as always) to R. Behrman for putting this important evening together.
(5/16/2018 9:34:10 PM)
Stop the abuse
which is the cause of so much pain, and which leads to opioid addiction.
(5/16/2018 10:01:12 PM)
Great event
Thank you Yaacov and the whole NCFJE Team.
(5/16/2018 10:07:05 PM)
Very informative. Thank you so much!!
I was very touched by Jay (the guy at the end).. He spoke from the heart, G-d bless you all!
(5/16/2018 10:35:49 PM)
Thank you
For mAking this evening possible and sharing on line. Due to weather and family I couldn’t be there but have gained enormously from raw facts and sensitive speakers. Thank you to those who shared their stories no matter how hard.Thank you to the organizers
(5/16/2018 10:53:51 PM)
I’m an addict and while all the experts think they know what they’re talking about the only things that ever worked for me and a lot of people I know is a 12 step program. The program adresses the spiritual malady which when is healed will heal the person physically and mentally as well. I would suggest all these experts to read the book ‘Alcoholics anonymous’ which shows a proven path to get over addiction
(5/16/2018 11:05:11 PM)
Thank you for hosting & posting this
I really appreciate that this video was posted, and I'm sure I speak for others, too.
(5/16/2018 11:07:38 PM)
Totally agree #2
Therapy of any kind takes a massive chunk out of anyone’s disposable income.
These costs are insane and prey on the vulnerable!
We are not talking about luxury, for some therapy is a necessity. How on earth are parents supposed to support their children when the costs are above and beyond their means????
Something MUST be done to put a stop to the rising costs of the desperately needed services.
(5/17/2018 1:06:54 AM)
Opioid Abuse starts in the doctors office
Let's be honest here, kids die because doctors get them hooked.
(5/17/2018 11:23:24 AM)
where to find resources
There are options to get children up to the age of 18 help. If the parent gets the child a diagnosis they are automatically eligible for medicaid regardless of income. This allows the child to get help therapy, physical therapy, occupational etc, for free.

After 18 I wish I knew the answer. The main goal is to get children help before they turn to drugs which means to look at your child honestly and see where they are lacking. If you can't fix it yourself then get help to make the necessary changes.
(5/17/2018 11:23:48 AM)
Self Defense Studio CH
Teach our children a healthy lifestyle. if a kid engaged in sports activety from 6 years old, he will not do drugs at 16.
(5/17/2018 3:37:35 PM)
Parents need hands on resources especially for dual diagnoses
If anyone can list some good therapists and clinics for both Mental health issues and addition? Often these go hand in hand. This is called dual diagnoses.
(5/17/2018 8:21:45 PM)
Divide and conquer?
Neshomos an organization born in crown heights by frum people who have real life experience in dealing with this and the resources they too used to get help...
Were you really expecting to help people when the event features cops and city council? Dear R'Hecht help them on their terms if you can, they are the ones who will save some lives with their experience. If possible carve space in your grants or help them by showing them how it's done.
(5/23/2018 4:46:34 PM)
@#15 they have a resource link to a phone number. You'll speak to C.H. people who have real life experience and will connect you with the appropriate resource that have been successfully tried and tested for people in this community
(5/23/2018 6:17:21 PM)
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