Two-thousand-and-eighty-nine. That’s the number of Marylanders who died from overdoses in 2016, according to a recently released report by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The number represents the greatest increase in substance-related deaths ever recorded in the state.

The opioid epidemic is hitting home for many Jewish families in the Baltimore metropolitan area. At its annual meeting on June 13, Jewish Community Services presented a program to raise awareness about the crisis and its impact on the community.

“The Jewish community is not immune from addiction issues,” JCS Executive Director Joan Grayson Cohen told the more than 125 attendees. “Nothing about living a certain type of life or having a close, supportive family precludes addiction. For some people, it has a biological basis.”

Howard Reznick, JCS’s manager of prevention and education, presented audience members with a brief overview of opioid addictions.

Howard Reznick of Jewish Community Services

Reznick said that the increase in deaths from opioid abuse is largely due to the prevalence of the drug fentanyl. Fentanyl is “between 10 and 100 percent stronger than heroin alone,” said Reznick. “It’s amped up, the highs are higher and that’s attractive to people.”

The drug is “often made in clandestine labs, not pharmacologically mixed, so there’s no quality control,” he said. “It’s as if you made a cake, but didn’t stir the batter well. With heroin, the fentanyl is not necessarily mixed well, so [the user] might hit that chunk, and then it’s goodbye.”

Reznick said he believes the increase in heroin use, especially among middle- and upper middle-class individuals, is a result of the over-prescription of pain medications that has occurred over the past three decades.

“In the 1980s, the American Medical Association concluded that pain was being undertreated because doctors were afraid of getting patients addicted,” he said. “So in the ‘80s and ‘90s, until about five years ago, doctors were overprescribing painkillers.”

Joan Grayson Cohen of Jewish Community Services

Once addicted to painkillers, many people turn to heroin because it is 10 times less expensive and does not require a prescription. Addictions to painkillers and heroin are extraordinarily difficult to kick, he said, so JCS expends a great deal of time and resources on prevention.

“We offer 150 programs a year in all different classrooms,” said Reznick. “About half of those focus on substance use. We want kids to be knowledgeable so they can think through their own choices.”

In 2014, JCS partnered with several agencies to create the Jewish Recovery Network. JRN includes the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center in Towson, which offers outpatient addiction treatment, the Caron Treatment Center and Right Turn-IMPACT, both of which offer a variety of services including residential recovery programs.

“The partnership ensures that people struggling with addiction will receive the appropriate level of care, and that assessments and treatment are provided in a culturally sensitive way,” said Reznick.

For information, call JCS at 410-466-9200 or visit jcsbaltimore.org.

Photos of Howard Reznick and Joan Grayson Cohen courtesy of Jewish Community Services

 

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