Five Towns confronts drug woes

While drug abuse may not be out of control in the frum community, “it is out there and rising,” an organizer of next Monday night’s Five Towns awareness-raising event told The Jewish Star. “We are trying to educate the community at large to be aware of it and what to do when help is needed.”

The evening, co-sponsored by shuls, schools and organizations in the Five Towns area, will begin at 8 pm on Monday, July 16, at Congregation Beth Sholom, 390 Broadway in Lawrence.

Some shuls prepped their members by addressing the issue in broad terms on Shabbat Chukat, June 23.

In advertisements headlined in red, “Our Kids Know About Drugs. Do We?” organizers proclaim, “Only as a community can we stand strong.”

Speakers will include rabbanim, physicians, first responders, law enforcement and mental health professions, and parents who have lived through the heartbreak that substance abuse can cause.

“Attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about this scourge, but most importantly, to hear the message of hope and find out about the many critical resources available right in our community to help address this growing problem,” organizers said.

A seven-member panel, moderated by Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender of Achiezer, will include Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere and, at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, chairman of the Department of Medicine, chief of infectious diseases, and hospital epidemiologist; Rabbi Kenneth Hain, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom; Rabbi Dov Silver, founder and executive vice president of the Woodmere-based Madraigos, an organization whose programs help teenagers and young adults overcome challenges; Karen Bayer, LCSW, a social worker with more than three decades of experience who practices in Lawrence and Manhattan; Rivka Drebin, LMSW, a social worker and parent; Shlomo Katz, a senior Hatzalah paramedic; and Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.

“Unfortunately, substance abuse, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs are a problem,” Rabbi Glatt said. “We need to make sure that everyone is aware of this.”

He said he hoped that Monday’s event would spur further discussion and “prevent anguish.”

“People should not be embarrassed to attend, because it is an educational opportunity and a step toward preventing future drug abuse,” Rabbi Glatt said.

Drug problems cut across many different communities, Bayer said, and although it has become more prevalent in recent years, many people are reticent to talk about it.

“I became trained to deal with families with drugs because that’s what I was seeing,” she said, adding that counseling such families is painful. She said that at Monday’s event she would discuss “very specific corrective goals” for family members and parents.

Bayer wants to spread the word that help is available. “Intervention and psychotherapy works — it helps,” she said. “We just need to open our eyes and help each other, and seek the sources that are available, and don’t think you’re the only one” with a problem or who knows someone with a problem.

Rabbi Silver said that substance abuse has been complicated by e-cigarettes and other forms of vaping.

“We want to educate,” he said. “At these events, you can’t cover all the topics that are needed, but it gets people to talk, to hear. And that’s always a great start.” 

When Madraigos held events focusing on parenting in the internet era, in November and April, more than 1,000 people attended, Rabbi Silver said. “We wanted to give concrete ideas to parents to help navigate children today,” he said. 

A 2015 pilot study of the Jewish population of the U.S. and Canada, conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Md., found “that a significant portion of the Jewish community knows someone affected by an addiction and that over 20 percent have a family history of addiction.” 

Recognizing potential problems at an early stage is key to preventing substance abuse, Rabbi Glatt said.

“I’ve seen tremendous medical harm that can come from substance abuse. I’ve seen religious harm,” he said.

Those who attend Monday’s event will see that “there are alternatives,” Rabbi Glatt added.

Jeffrey Bessen of the Nassau Herald contributed to this report.