Is There a Spiritual Solution to Solving Canada's Opioid Crisis?

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Roman Samborskyi

David Kaufman, Director of Outreach & Education at the Jewish Addiction Community Services (JACS), and an Orthodox Jew says, “those who have successfully gone through the struggle and pain of recovery many times have a deeper appreciation of their spiritual life whether they began their journey “religious” or not.” Our own Sheldon Neil spoke with him to learn more about the truth behind addiction, and its spiritual dimension.


SHELDON NEIL: Is the problem of opioids an epidemic in this country?

DAVID KAUFMAN: “Yes, there is an opioid problem, but there is also an alcohol, fentanyl, pornography, and gambling and so on epidemic. The problem is addiction not just one type of addiction, which go in phases or fashions depending upon various economics, social, supply and host of other factors. The problem with opioids has an additional element in that opioid addiction sometimes begins through a legal medical prescription for post operational pain.

“It must be understood that addiction is a disease whose symptoms once addiction takes hold are awful behaviour. From lying, stealing, doing dangerous things to damaging the lives of those who love the addict. For the addict – their main desire is to escape and self-medicate both physical and emotional pain. This desire destroys their ability to live in reality and live a life on life’s terms.”

Can you give a medical or scientific explanation of how prescription overdose deaths occur?

“Tolerance is defined as a person’s weakened response to a drug (or behaviour such as gambling, pornography, etc.), which occurs when the drug is used repeatedly. As a response to this diminishment, a person then uses more of the drug in order to try to capture their original effect or high. They may use too much and overdose. Another manner that overdoses occur is when a person who has stopped using enough time for their body to lose their tolerance to the drug. The person then decides to use again, but uses a dose of the drug that they left off using when their tolerance was very high. This dose causes an overdose death.”

What kind of unique support and resources does JACS offer to families suffering from addiction, at the hands of opioids?

“At JACS, we are equally committed to caring for people struggling with addictions as well as their families. JASCS offers a unique Families In Recovery Program. This includes workshops and counselling for family members who have often felt as if they have been “held hostage” to their loved ones addiction and behaviours.”

JACS also offers several support groups:

Here to Help (level I): Thursdays 7:30-9 pm. This group was developed as an introduction to addiction issues. Open to anyone struggling with addiction themselves or their families / friends who want to understand more about addiction and how to respond to the behaviours that often accompany substance use and abuse.

Women’s Support Group: Monday mornings. This meeting is a support group for women who are affected by substance abuse (either their own or someone else’s). It is open to all young, adult women. The meeting will focus on life skills and coping for challenges specific to women in this stage of life. This is a process group where women are encouraged to share their own experiences and support each other. Childcare is provided. Please call JACS for more information.

Concerned Persons Group (level II): Tuesdays 8:00-9:30pm. An advanced meeting that utilizes a group format to discuss complex issues surrounding living with addiction, co-dependency or whatever is helpful to explore. You must attend Here To Help (level I) before attending this group.

Jewish Women’s Orthodox Support Group: Held at a private home Tuesdays 8:00-9:30pm. This group is for Jewish Orthodox women (spouses, mothers and siblings) who are struggling with addiction in their family. To attend please contact David at JACS, 416-638-0350 x227.

You say the problem of denial as it relates to addiction is a problem within the Jewish community. Explain this.

“While at one time it may have been statistically true, but today being Jewish (religious or unaffiliated) does not provide some form of cultural, spiritual or genetic immunization addiction. The acronym for DENIAL is Don’t Even Notice That I Am Lying might apply here. I guess it is hard to give up the notion that we as a community have addiction problems after many centuries of success dealing with these issues. Today, this denial keeps some in our community from getting the help they need in a timely manner.”

JACS (Jewish Addiction Community Services) works to help people suffering from addiction. But, you also offer spiritual support to families and communities suffering from addiction. How is offering a spiritual dimension help in solving the problem of opioids facing families?

“There is a saying, ‘Religion is for those who are afraid of hell, and spirituality is for those who have gone through it.’ I have found in my work that those who have successfully gone through the struggle and pain of recovery many times have a deeper appreciation of their spiritual life whether they began their journey ‘religious’ or not. An attitude of gratitude, celebration and commitment to growth is common. The reason is that healthy recovery creates a profound alteration in how one views themselves, others and the meaning of life.

“It is impossible in 50+- words to write about the profound manner in which a Jewish approach to suffering (I guess we have a lot of experience) is so helpful for those touched by addiction. I am asked often by parents, ‘How do I know he is really in recovery?’ My answer is: 1) He will have stopped blaming people, places and things (justified or not) for his present day problems. 2) He will start taking responsibility for his own life from health, relationships to finances and fun. 3) He will start living life on life’s terms not demanding and complaining life should unfold on his terms.

“There is a Jewish law that states to become a prophet one has to be married, have children have means to be self-supporting and so on. The principle is that religion / spirituality does not avoid life’s challenges, but includes them. In other words, life’s challenges are not in the way, they are the way.”

Note: This interview will be part of an upcoming Context program on Opioid Abuse.

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