Opioid Epidemic Impacts the Jewish Community

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It’s a simple question. Yet when Elizabeth Piper, health educator for Jewish Community Services (JCS), asks it to a room full of high school students, she is always amazed at the response.

“I go into a number of private school classrooms to talk about substance abuse and the opioid epidemic,” she says. “And when I ask the students how many of them know someone who has struggled with opioids or overdose, their response always takes me by surprise.”

Last year, Maryland experienced more than 1,500 opioid-related deaths from January to September alone. And many of those overdoses were in the Jewish community.

As opioid addiction plays out in our backyard and as Jewish teen and adult deaths, due to overdose, occur on a regular basis, JCS is committed to tackling the crisis head-on.

From private schools to Jewish organizations, from public forums to podcasts, the agency is implementing a full-court preventative education program to address this public health concern.

With numbers that are astonishing – more Americans died of drug overdoses last year than from car accidents, homicides and suicides combined – providing preventative education is a critical component to helping raise awareness of prescription and non-prescription drug misuse.

The goals of the program are multifold. JCS, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, wants to help community members identify signs of opioid misuse, decrease the stigma of discussing addiction and work to change a culture in which pain medication is so readily available.

At the core of its efforts are the organization’s Healthy Choices school initiative, one hour and multi-day age-appropriate programs. The organization has worked in a number of private schools, including Garrison Forest, St. Paul’s, Bryn Mawr and the Friends School.

For more than 30 years, JCS has offered substance abuse and healthy choices programs to schools, but in recent years they have increased their focus on opioids.

“I give these students examples of the pros of opioid use following a surgery to the cons of how easy it is to develop tolerance and its potential for addiction,” explains Piper. She adds that the program is not a textbook conversation, but often brings in recovering addicts or presents real-world scenarios to help students focus on how they would handle situations. For example, she asks students to imagine they are at a party with friends and teens from another school offer them pills. Or, she asks them what they would do if they found someone who took too much of a substance.

Piper, whose mother battled addiction, often shares her personal story.

“A lot of people often come up to me after my presentations telling me about having similar personal stories and how helpful it is to hear from someone who survived the experience and became a strong, resilient person,” she says.

In the 30 years since he’s been involved with JCS and preventative education, Howard Reznick, manager of preventative education for JCS, has seen a shift in students willing to talk about drug abuse. Teens, he says, are much more forthright discussing this issue and sharing situations as long as it’s not about themselves.  Click to read entire article.

The Associated Contributors

The Associated Contributors are writers from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.


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