Addiction does not pick and choose which persons of which religions to affect.  Addiction is simply an affliction of the very worst kind that really and truly affects anyone and everyone, from all creeds, religions, faiths, demographics, moral codes, ethnic backgrounds, income levels, geographic areas, ages, and sexes.  It is not at all discriminatory.  When one is coping with addiction and when one sees how devastating it is, it eventually brings on an understanding that it crosses all religious and socioeconomic boundaries and leaves no stone unturned or person untouched if it can. In fact, the more an addict holds himself out as being different, the further he or she actually is from recovery and from the benefit of help from others experiencing similar struggles as their own.

This is why, in the Jewish community, a new policy of full and complete disclosure of addiction within practicing church members is being brought about in certain metro areas that have a heavy Jewish influence.  True enough, contrary to the sacrosanct anonymity that is basically a cornerstone of the recovery community, the Jewish community is attempting to shine a light on everyone’s battle with substance abuse, their overall life choices and the steps that they take to get clean.  They feel that by making it known and by making it a public affair, the addict will receive tenfold the amount of support and succor that he or she would ordinarily receive.  This method has been workable so far, with hundreds of Jewish addicts becoming clean and sober thanks to a massive splendor of support and care from within their own respective churches.

It All Began in Atlanta

A local to Atlanta addiction program called HAMSA (Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse) initially funded, brought about, and sustained by grants from the Marcus Foundation, is an important service of Jewish Family & Career Services. This program is what started it all.  It is an entry point and a key, vital, and unbeatable resource to combat addiction, as well as an ongoing source for the education and the assistance of those who are addicted, giving them an outreach and information dissemination program and focal point to fight the spread of a devastating problem, usually with heroin, that afflicts the Jewish community just as it strikes the greater community in Atlanta in tandem.

The HAMSA “road map” for battling heroin addiction amongst the Jewish community in Atlanta and with other substance abuse amongst these families includes but is not at all limited to:

• Increasing Jewish recovery group options, targeting narcotics and other destructive addictions.

• Using the new counseling wing at the Dunwoody campus of Jewish Family & Career Services for enhanced and additional HAMSA programs.

• Expanding community partnerships to provide, for example, coffeehouse Shabbats with the Marcus Jewish Community Center; Moishe House educational and social programming; a spiritual cleansing ritual with the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah; SOJOURN prevention programming; and interfaith programming.

• Adding a Jewish spiritual voice to local inpatient recovery options by having a rabbi as a resource at inpatient recovery, as well as Jewish services and observances among the spiritual elements now typical at many recovery centers. Having a kosher kitchen at a partner facility would be a long-range goal.

Heroin Abuse Statistics

To really appreciate all that HAMSA is doing and to really see its value for what it is, it is best to understand just how deadly and severe heroin is in the United States today.  For example:

• Every day in the U.S., 2,500 youths, (of the age of 12 to 17), abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time, and several thousand abuse heroin for the first time.  Prescription drug use and abuse, while most prevalent in the United States of America, is also a problem in many areas around the world including Europe, Southern Africa and South Asia as well. In the U.S. alone for example, more than 15 million people abuse prescription drugs, more than the combined number who reported abusing cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin all together.

• According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at the prestigious Columbia University, teens who abuse prescription drugs are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times more likely to use marijuana, and twelve to twenty times more likely to use illegal street drugs such as heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine than teens who do not abuse prescription drugs are.  In its own way, prescription drugs are a pretty serious gateway drug.

• In the year of 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration found that the use and the abuse of the painkiller Fentanyl killed more easily more than 1,000 people that year in the U.S. It is thirty to fifty times more powerful than heroin is, and is prescribed rather generously by many doctors nationwide.

What We Can Learn from This

It would not be all too difficult for other churches and other major religious organizations and affiliates in metro areas to adopt a similar program to the HAMSA program.  The mockup of the program is pretty straightforward and could be applied to any large, religious group. With the enforcement of these techniques and the backbone idea of total disclosure, addiction to heroin and other drugs could finally be something that is set on a declining scale, not on a rapidly rising one.

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