Jason Rubenfire Special to the Jewish News
The Well explores opioid addiction.
The opiate crisis in America has reached epidemic standards. According to the CDC, overdose deaths claimed approximately 64,000 American lives in 2016, with the numbers showing few signs of falling. No corner of America or any one particular culture or nationality is shielded from the epidemic.
Recently, The Well hosted “Addicted: Opiates and Jewish Wisdom” to explore a Judaic answer to this crisis.
The event began with Josh Roberts talking about his struggles and recovery from opiate addiction. Roberts grew up in West Bloomfield and had what he called a normal childhood, surrounded by family and friends. As a young adult, he participated in occasional drug and alcohol use out of what he called “a need to fit in.”
While he was in law school, Roberts’ mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was through her treatment that he says he was first exposed to opiate painkillers.
“Being high quickly became more important than anything … I did OK in law school, but I started to compromise the morals and values I grew up with,” Roberts told the crowd of about 50 at The Office Coffee Shop in Royal Oak. He eventually spiraled into lying, stealing and other behaviors that furthered his addiction. “I didn’t do them to hurt people in my life; I didn’t do it out of malice. I did it because I had a disease that was out of control.”
After his mother died, Roberts’ recovery blossomed when he joined the Judaic treatment center Beit T’Shuvah in Los Angeles. In his recovery, he has always strived to combine the Judaic teachings of his youth and heritage with typical tenants of Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) rehabilitation. Roberts stresses you don’t need to belong to any religion at all to follow the principles; you just need to “realize you’re not the center of the universe,” that there’s something bigger than you out there.
“It isn’t necessarily about being ‘struck by God,’” Roberts says. “The spiritual experience is one of education, living my life, [and finding] new emotions, new ideas and a new attitude, all based on spiritual principles.”
As his rehabilitation has progressed, he now is working to help others by telling his story and sharing his own uniquely Jewish take on rehabilitation.
Following his speech, participants split into groups to talk about discussion questions that used Jewish texts as well as traditional texts from other religions and tenets of recovery. This sparked lively discussion and debate.
The event concluded with a panel discussion on opioid addiction led by Stephanie Steinberg, managing editor of SEEN magazine. Panelists were Dr. Shawn Achtman, a local doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation; Dr. Elise Gilbert Aronowitz, a licensed pharmacist with extensive experience working with opioid issues; and retired Judge Edward Sosnick, the first presiding judge of Oakland County’s Juvenile Drug Court.
Sosnick and Roberts agreed that people need to be educated that addiction is not a moral weakness but a disease. Sosnick stressed that addiction “permanently changes the brain” and addicts need help rather than punishment.
When asked how the epidemic got this far, Achtman pointed to the ease with which doctors have prescribed opioid medication and the difficulty of determining whether a patient is truly in pain. He says while caution is now being implemented, it is difficult to determine who may or may not be lying to obtain drugs.
Aronowitz emphasized the importance of making a distinction between medically necessary longterm opioid use and addiction; the latter involves a repeated pattern of use without some medical reasoning behind it.
“Addicts move between three states: high, low and normal,” she explained. “Addicts will need to feel that high, while patients who need the medicine need it just to get to normal.”
“Trust God. Clean House. Help Others.” This quote, a defining principle of AA, has helped Roberts through his own recovery.
If you or someone you know is suffering from opioid addiction, the West Bloomfield-based Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House features teen and adult programs, AA meetings, Jewish recovery meetings and even Shabbat dinners for addicts and their families. Call (248) 788-7878 or go to friendshipcircle.org/friendshiphouse.