This past fall, when I attended “Confronting the Opioid Epidemic: A Free Community Forum,” sponsored by Jewish Community Services (JCS), Sol Levinson Bros., the Baltimore Board of Rabbis and the Edward A. Myerberg Center, I was surprised at what I learned.
According to Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, associate dean of public health and training at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, more Americans died of drug overdoses last year than from car accidents, homicides and suicides combined.
Additionally, life expectancy in the United States dropped in 2016 and 2017 for the first time since 1993 due solely to the opioid epidemic.
These startling statistics underscore a crisis that generated more attention from the media and public officials and demonstrated the need for additional prevention education and treatment services.
The toll of this epidemic on our community has been widespread. For so many of us, it doesn’t even take six degrees of separation to know someone whose family member is addicted to or overdosed on opioids.
We know that this current crisis does not discriminate by socioeconomics, religion or age. In fact, one of the fastest- growing affected demographics is women over 50. Studies show this cohort is more likely to be prescribed painkillers and more apt to become addicted.
As a JCS board member, I am proud that The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, through the work of JCS, has been addressing the use and abuse of opioids and other drugs in our community for many years and remains committed to this effort.
By providing therapy services to families, working closely with the recovery community to refer patients to the appropriate recovery centers and focusing on preventive work, we hope to make inroads in this local and national health crisis.
To that end, JCS will continue to hold community forums and expand our school partnerships to reach young people and their families as early as possible. Through these measures we can decrease the stigma of discussing addiction, connect people to treatment earlier and change a culture in which pain medication is so widely prescribed and so readily available.
As the opioid crisis has escalated, JCS has found that members of our community want and need more information and resources to address this critical issue. Howard Reznick, manager of prevention education for JCS, says he has seen a shift toward teens being more willing to talk about drugs and families being more willing to acknow- ledge when addiction played a part in a loved one’s death. This is a positive sign.
With too many people dying, we must marshal our community resources to get ahead of this crisis. We thank The Associated for supporting this effort.
Barbara Schlaff is a member of the board of Jewish Community Services.