18.7 million Americans have a substance use disorder. That’s one in twelve adults.
Joining the fight against addiction are three Atlanta-area Chabad rabbis, who have been selected to participate in an nine-session opioid awareness and prevention seminar for interfaith leaders.
A project of the Clinton Foundation, the program aims to educate and train spiritual leaders—often the first ones struggling users turn to, and, as their website puts it, “equips them with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to organize community members, reduce stigma of addiction, and to fight substance use disorders in their communities.” Last year’s pilot program successfully ran in Little Rock, Arkansas, Houston, Texas and Jacksonville, Florida.
Megan Affrunti, Director of Substance Use Disorders and Recovery at the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, says the faith leaders who receive training on opioids and overdose prevention “become certified in Mental Health First Aid, learn how to speak about substance use disorders from the pulpit, and develop comprehensive guides on local prevention, treatment, and recovery resources for their communities.” Affrunti says the program tries to include a diverse group of leaders. “Substance use disorders affect all of us, regardless of faith, race, ethnicity, zip code and want the information to reach as many communities (via faith leaders) as possible”
“So far, the sessions have been really fascinating and I’ve learned a lot,” says Chabad of Intown Atlanta’s Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman, one of the religious leaders participating in the monthly, three-hour workshops. Not a newcomer to the mental health recovery stage, the rabbi organizes regular awareness events and hoststwo AA recovery meetings each week at his Chabad center, with over seventy participants. “Each session focuses on a different aspect of prevention, like learning what to say and what not to say when someone turns to us for help, and how to properly administer Naloxone.”
For fellow Chabad Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz of Alpharetta, the sessions on the underlying causes of addiction, and understanding the mind of someone with a substance abuse disorder, have been the most illuminating. “This is one of the important things we deal with as spiritual leaders, and just knowing how to guide someone and refer them to treatment is so important.”
At the end of the program, the Foundation will be awarding the eighteen religious leaders—from all different faiths and places of worship—a $5,000 grant toward organizing a community initiative based on what they’ve learned. Schusterman plans on using the grant to offer a mental health and recovery Shabbaton retreat for his community.
Rabbi Ephraim Silverman of Chabad of Marietta, the third Chabad rabbi participating in the project, says, “Chabad needs to play a role in helping people facing this crisis and addiction in their lives and family.” Minkowicz says he hopes to “be a better resource for people in crisis in our community through this program.”