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Manhattan-based Amudim talks drug stigmas at Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere


Addressing the stigmas that surround drug addiction and learning how to use the overdose-reversing drug Narcan were the primary focus of a training session hosted by the Manhattan-based nonprofit Amudim at Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere on Aug. 6.

According to the mission statement on its website, Amudim aims to “Support those in crisis on their journey back to normalcy through the pillars of kindness, support, sensitivity, understanding and respect.” Gavi Liebowitz, Amudim’s opioid overdose prevention coordinator, conducted the training. Attendees were given a Narcan safety kit after the session. 

“The beauty about putting on these events is that aside from getting Narcan, we get to address the stigma that for example, a person is too smart or too rich to be addicted to opioids,” Liebowitz said. “We’ve successfully broken down that stigma, showing that addiction can happen to anyone.”

He also pointed to how drug addiction is not a physical issue, but more a mental health issue. “It used to be said that an addict’s lack of willpower was a reason for being addicted,” he said. “If that’s the case, then why would a successful businessman ever become a drug addict? He has so much willpower to get up everyday and make money, then all of a sudden he doesn't have that willpower because he’s an addict?”

Tzvi Heber, CEO of Ascendant New York, a freestanding detox and outpatient addiction treatment center in Manhattan said that steps can be taken to prevent addiction and overdoses long before Narcan is needed. “Narcan is an incredible tool that saves lives,” he said. “But we have the power to do something before Narcan is needed. This is especially for parents as prevention starts in our homes by setting good examples for our children.” 

Heber speaks from experience as he is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. He is also the father of three children under the age of seven. “My children look to me for advice and it’s my job as a parent to lead them in the right direction,” he added.

Something is working in Nassau County as statistics released in July by the New York State Department of Health indicated a decline in opioid deaths in the county from 2017 to 2018. There were 193 recorded deaths from opioid overdoses in Nassau in 2017, that number declined by 43 percent with 110 deaths in 2018.

The Marion & Aaron Gural JCC was one of the co-sponsors of the training session alongside Tempo Group and Project Extreme. The Gural JCC spearheaded the formation of the Saving Lives Five Towns Drug & Alcohol Coalition, which held its first meeting on July 30. Cathy Byrne, Gural JCC’s associate executive director for older adults and special needs, said that this presentation was not association with the newly established coalition that does plan on holding Narcan training sessions a few times per year. “The coalition wants to hold quarterly Narcan training sessions,” Byrne said. “The dates are still to be determined, but it is definitely something we want to do.” 

Rabbi Shalom Yona Weis of Aish Kodesh noted what he hopes the roughly 30 attendees took away from the session. “One lesson I hope people learned tonight is addiction is not something you can see in people’s faces,” Weis said. “Everybody is connected to somebody who is hurting. Why and how they’re hurting doesn’t matter, we need to focus on saving our brothers and sisters lives.”