In an effort to curtail the opioid crisis, Helping Atlanta Manage Substance Abuse hosted a class last week for Hillels of Georgia as part of its Narcan Training Initiative. The course taught Hillel staff how to use the emergency Narcan device, a nasal spray that reverses an opioid overdose.
“Addiction is not a lack of will power, nor is it a choice. It’s a disease,” said Mandy Wright, program manager for HAMSA, the substance abuse program of Jewish Family & Career Services. She led the Hillel class with Lindsay Montgomery, prevention education coordinator for Kennesaw State University.
In addition to Kennesaw, the Narcan class last week at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta included staff from the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Emory and Georgia State universities.
The Narcan Training Initiative involves two parts: educational and hands-on. The Hillel staff were first taught the signs and symptoms of an overdose. Then, to become familiar with Narcan, they administered it in hypothetical situations. At the end, all participants left with a Narcan kit that includes two doses.
Wright also talked to the class about the problem of stigma in our society. HAMSA tries to eliminate the stigma about drug use and opioid overdose by educating people that addiction does not discriminate.
“We hear so much about the opioid crisis; it’s a very widespread thing. Addiction doesn’t care about age, gender, religion,” Montgomery said. “A lot of opioid users are first-time users.”
The Jewish community is not unique in that people of all ages can become substance abuse addicts, Wright said.
Rabbi Russ Shulkes, Hillels of Georgia’s executive director, attended the Narcan Training Initiative and applauds HAMSA for its efforts in education and awareness. He believes prevention starts at the individual level and said that the first step in reducing stigma is to “recognize an issue and raise awareness, and then change the relationship to the situation.”
The goal of these training sessions is for people to leave feeling “good, empowered, to learn a little more, and potentially save a life,” Wright said.
Mara Price, engagement director of UGA Hillel, said the training connects to Judaism because it pertains to “helping others if someone is in need.”
Wright mentioned that the Jewish community suffers from inter-generational trauma, the largest source being the devastating mental effects of the Holocaust. In terms of developing an addiction, “trauma is a huge primer,” she said.
In the future, Wright would like to see a Narcan kit in every synagogue and at every Jewish organization.
The next Narcan Training Initiative, open to the public, will be Mon., Aug. 20, 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. at Temple Beth Tikvah.
HAMSA offers outpatient group and individual therapy and sober mentors. They also offer sober holiday celebrations, such as sober Seder. HAMSA’s toll-free phone service connects callers with Leslie Lubell, information and referral specialist, who will assist in finding a treatment center that fits the caller’s immediate needs.
To the person seeking recovery from an addiction, Wright said, “we are here with no judgment and with compassion and resources.” For HAMSA’s hotline, call 1-833-HAMSA-HELPS.