by Dr. Beth Fishman on April 26, 2023
There's a myth that addiction is not a Jewish issue. But hard as it is to swallow, our community is just as prone to addiction as that of our non-Jewish friends. Yes, Jews struggle with substance addiction (including alcohol, stimulants, and opiates), and Jews struggle with non-substance addiction (including sports betting, screen time, and compulsive sexual behavior), too.
And these days, Jews and non-Jews alike are facing a new pernicious threat: fentanyl poisoning. Overdose deaths due to fentanyl poisoning have reached unprecedented numbers in the United States.
In fact, drug overdose has become the leading cause of injury-related death, affecting the following: those who use heroin or pain pills from black market sources; those who borrow seemingly legitimate prescription medications; and those who are at high risk, such as adolescents and college students.
While there are certainly no simple answers when it comes to addiction, one medication--called naxolone (trade name Narcan)--is a game changer in reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. Because of the scale of the crisis, the U.S. has recently taken unprecedented steps to combat opioid related deaths. For the first time, federal funds are being allocated to harm reduction strategies in the public health sphere, including: making vending machines with free Narcan available in public spaces; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approving Narcan for purchase over the counter; airport bathrooms displaying signage with warnings against fentanyl use; and best practice for CPR training including a segment on administering Narcan.
The Jewish community is also responding to the addiction crisis with a variety of resources:
*Chicago-area foundations established by Jewish families after losing a beloved one to overdose are doing tremendous work addressing the crisis. They include:
Live4Lali, Jordan Michael Filler Foundation, SaveAStar, and the Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundation.
*JCFS Chicago's Addiction Services routinely fields calls from Jewish families in the aftermath of an overdose death.
*JCFS Chicago's Addiction Services has teamed up with Live4Lali to promote Overdose Prevention and Reversal (Narcan) Training in the community. Rather than targeting those struggling with addiction, the trainings are geared toward the broader Jewish community, and those who want to equip themselves with the tools to help the most vulnerable. We hope participants will never be forced to implement these tools, but we want them--you--to know what to do should an emergency arise.
We're a privileged community in many ways--but privilege does not insulate us from opioid abuse, overdose, and even death. The Chicago Jewish community has lost many of our own to opioid overdose in recent decades, and the pandemic only exacerbated stress, anxiety, isolation, and barriers to treatment.
Now more than ever, we need to view ourselves not as living in a protected bubble--but rather as members of a broader, caring community.
Trainings for several Chicago-based Jewish communal organizations are in the works for this summer. To learn more or to schedule an Overdose Prevention and Reversal Training for your community, contact Aliza Becker atAlizaBecker@jcfs.org.
For more information on fentanyl, see the JCFS Chicago fentanyl alert at
For more information about opioid use, overdoses, and Naloxone/Narcan, visit
For national Jewish addiction awareness resources, visit the Jewish Addiction Awareness Network at
Dr. Beth Fishman, Ph.D. is Program Manager of Addiction Services at JCFS Chicago.