Lifesaving Jewish Responses to Opioid Epidemic
Health and WellnessFighting the Crisis of Opioid Addiction

Lifesaving Jewish Responses to Opioid Epidemic

The community develops a depth of resources for addiction treatment and recovery.

Leah R. Harrison

Leah Harrison is a reporter and copy editor for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

A lot has happened since the AJT first explored “Atlanta’s Jewish Heroin Triangle” in August 2016. The opioid crisis has continued to grow across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

The Atlanta Jewish community, like populations across America, has suffered terrible losses and seen too many funerals of promising lives cut short by addiction.

Additives such as fentanyl and carfentanil have made heroin and prescription opioids more potent and deadly. There is a lag in the publication of official statistics, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human resources said 116 people a day died from opioid-related drug overdoses in the United States in 2016.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overall drug overdose deaths in the United States increased from 47,055 in 2014 to 52,404 in 2015 to more than 63,600 in 2016.

By comparison, 2016 saw more than 38,000 gun deaths (about 11,000 of them homicides) and 37,461 deaths in traffic crashes.

Drug overdoses are now the No. 3 cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer. A June article in The New York Times calls the opioid crisis “a modern plague” that is the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.

As the devastation hit Jewish Atlanta, synagogues called for information, speakers and meetings, and Jewish Family & Career ServicesHAMSA program held sober Shabbats.

Amid the continuing epidemic, Jewish individuals and organizations have stepped up to supplement the existing meetings and generally available treatment and recovery centers with specific resources to fight addiction in our community.

We asked providers to tell us what they have developed the past 18 months and what services they are making available.

The Berman Center, 770-336-7444

Established in September by Alyza Berman in response to the needs of her clients and the community, The Berman Center is a Jewish faith-based intensive outpatient program, or IOP. It is for adults who suffer from addiction or co-occurring diagnoses, including anxiety, depression and trauma, as well as eating disorders.

The center is housed in a midrise surrounded by serene woods at 1200 Ashwood Parkway, Suite 400, in Dunwoody. The IOP offers therapies ranging from individual to group, 12-step warm yoga to art, as well as fitness and massage.

The center has the support of rabbis representing a wide spectrum of Jewish observance who rotate in to provide guidance and conduct group sessions on Fridays. This connection helps clients gain solid footing on their journey toward sobriety and community engagement.

The Berman Center has clients from multiple states in numbers that are exceeding initial expectations.

“Calls are coming in every single day,” Berman said. “It’s so exciting. We’re seeing so much transition and change within our clients.”

In addition to being comfortable for Jews, “what’s different about this treatment center, compared to others where I have worked, is that our mission to really effect change in a way that people leave feeling better and more capable of tackling life and really thriving in life is being achieved,” she said. “All of our clients are leaving with either a job or on their way to a job, or they are going back to school.”

Berman coined the phrase “Jewish recovery triangle” in reference to the complementary efforts of The Berman Center, HAMSA and the coming Derech Transitional Living facility. This array of services positions Jewish Atlanta to help those fighting addiction find the resources they need.

The center is working on outreach in areas such as prevention and awareness of mental health in Jewish day schools, high schools, synagogues, youth programs and camps.

Berman and her husband, center CEO Justin Milrad, are on numerous community boards and have established the Blue Dove Foundation to prevent cost from being a barrier to treatment.

The Blue Dove Foundation

Understanding that finances often prevent people from getting the recovery and mental health assistance they need, Berman and Milrad created this 501(c)3 nonprofit.

“We are planning on helping any Jewish person anywhere in the United States get the treatment they need,” said Berman, likening the foundation to a quarterback driving the Atlanta effort in collaboration with JF&CS, Derech and others.

The foundation has a threefold mission:
• Education and awareness of addiction and mental health issues that affect the Jewish community. The foundation will work with local experts, host events, and increase awareness and pathways to treatment.
• Hardship scholarships and zero- or low-interest loans to offset the costs of treatment for any Jewish person seeking treatment in the United States.
• Community outreach with schools, synagogues, camps and youth groups through a “mental health toolkit” that can be scaled as needed. The prototype will test programs, such as installing a mental health expert in a school, then work with the community to institute those that succeed.

The Blue Dove website is near completion, and the foundation is finalizing details and assembling a board. A community fundraiser is in the works, in addition to creative ways you can be identified as an ally and provide support.

Derech Transitional Living, 678-909-9772

In the final stages of preparations, Derech Transitional Living, a sober residential environment meant to accommodate people at all levels of Jewish observance, will soon be available.

Derech was created in response to a need expressed by community members for such a Jewish home. As stated on its website, “Derech Transitional Living provides a supportive living environment for Jewish men and women ages 21-35 who are on a committed path to recovery as they continue on their journey through treatment and adopting a sober lifestyle.”

A qualified staff in a convenient intown location will provide structure and in-house support groups, as well as access to community meetings and opportunities to connect with the Jewish community at large.

HAMSA,, 833-426-7243

Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse, or HAMSA, a program of Jewish Family & Career Services, has restructured to “serve as the go-to resource for the Jewish community” in battling addiction, its website says.

Mandy Wright has recently become the program manager, and a full-time information and referral specialist has been hired, indicating that JF&CS recognizes the magnitude of the addiction problem and is leveraging the resources to fight it.

The agency has noted an increase in people needing and seeking help. In a recent meeting at the JF&CS offices in Dunwoody, Director of Clinical Services Dan Arnold spoke about the increasing lethality of the substances people are taking. “These are drugs that will kill you,” he said. “People don’t always know what they’re taking.”

CEO Rick Aranson noted a broad spectrum of factors contributing to the escalation of substance abuse, depression, anxiety and related issues. “I think collectively that’s why we’re seeing a rise in clients in our clinical services area, but also in our substance abuse program.”

JF&CS intends HAMSA to be a community resource for the totality of the needs of addicts and their families. The focus may have been awareness in the past, but HAMSA now is structured to support people and their families in all stages of active addiction and recovery.

“We recognize that there’s not a single solution for everybody that calls us. … We want to be the neutral community resource that connects people to services based on their unique needs and experiences,” Aranson said, even if those services are outside the nonprofit and the Jewish community. “That’s really how JF&CS positions itself across the organization. We provide some services, but we’re also a neutral, nonprofit referral source to connect people to whatever it is they need.”

“This crisis is bigger than any one organization,” Arnold said, “and if we’re going to serve the community, then we have to focus on partnering and collaborating with other folks so that people can find safety and assistance.”

Wright said the new information and referral person will develop relationships with recovery and treatment centers to make the best recommendations to callers. HAMSA will provide Jewish sensitivity training to those partners so they can best serve referred clients. As a result, the options for “confident referrals” from HAMSA to trusted centers will increase, Wright said.

HAMSA works closely with The Berman Center and expects to do the same with Derech.

The new website features a “Contact Us” box that provides one-click access to a form to request help, volunteer with HAMSA or receive program updates.

Other services listed include:

  • Individual and group therapy.
  • Meeting companions to accompany program participants to their first meetings.
  • Narcan education and supply. You can schedule a “Get Naloxone” training event for a synagogue, school or business.
  • Speakers bureau of people affected by addiction.
  • Sober holiday celebrations and community events.

Faye Dresner, the JF&CS chief programming officer, said she hopes the new 833-HAMSAHELPS (833-426-7243) phone number “can become, over time, a single point of entry for anybody who’s looking for any kind of service, so they don’t have to navigate through services when they’re in crisis.”

HAMSA plans extensive community outreach and a mentor-type program using addiction “graduates.”

Two therapy groups meet at the JF&CS campus at 4549 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody: a group for those in recovery and a group for family members of those who struggle with addiction.

Anyone interested in starting a group meeting in a Jewish-friendly setting is encouraged to visit

Jewish Path to Recovery

With the help of a talented team, Eric Miller has envisioned and created a local, online platform. is an interactive website “for Jewish people to find resources for their whole life cycle of recovery.”

It is comprehensive and carefully curated to provide practical tools and paths for connection.

Knowing that the computer is the first place people go for information or resources, “we want to be that initial point of contact,” Miller said, “and a constant part of that community for support, information, inspiration and connection.”

Miller, a veteran of the Atlanta addiction recovery scene through HAMSA and his own journey through addiction and recovery, said a strong spiritual component is an integral part of the process. The website will therefore offer “the Jewish take on recovery and the recovery process,” he said, including “Jewish teachings as they relate to getting sober and coping with addictions of all sorts and places where addicts find themselves.”

In addition to addiction resources of all types, the website will link to articles and offer many special sections, including:

  • “Jewish Strategies to Recovery” with targeted prayers and meditation.
  • Blogging platforms for addicts, Jewish mothers and other family members, and the community.
  • “Torah Sparks” with timely references to Jewish holidays and the weekly parsha.
  • A two-way-street referral page where you can request or recommend a helpful spiritual guide, a treatment facility or a therapist.
  • “May Their Memory Be for a Blessing,” a thoughtful place to honor, memorialize and share the stories of those who died.

Miller said everyone has a role in recovery and has something to contribute, and the shared experiences of each person will benefit others. The website is structured to allow for partnerships on all levels, “so Jews in recovery can find other Jews in recovery and they can share.”

It is a place where:

  • Addicts and their families can find resources.
  • People in recovery can connect with, mentor or support others.
  • People in all stages of addiction and recovery can blog about personal experiences and resources.
  • Parents, spouses, siblings and other family members can connect with people in similar circumstances.
  • Anyone touched by addiction can write about personal stories and struggles.
  • Jewish clergy can offer guidance, share and collaborate.

Miller describes it as “a disruptive model to have Jewish recovery available from your desktop, cellphone, or from any screen anywhere.” Because mobile devices are how anyone under 40 accesses the world, Miller said the website will be optimized for cellphone use.

Coming soon is the mobile app. Because the needs of addicts aren’t conveniently timed around the availability of therapists or group meetings, the app will provide immediate person-to-person connections to rabbis, mentors, counselors and others through social media.

Stressing Jewish spirituality as a point of difference, “we will be able to create a recovery community to offer live and alive support to each other,” Miller said.

Share Your Stories

Those in the recovery community have made it clear that the opioid epidemic has produced inspirational stories of triumph over addiction in Jewish Atlanta, and we want to share them. To bring your story to the Jewish community, email

Ongoing Group Meetings

  • Congregation B’nai Torah, 700 Mount Vernon Highway, Sandy Springs. Alcoholics Anonymous on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. Al-Anon on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. (AA is a recovery program for alcoholics. Al-Anon is for people affected by a friend or relative’s substance abuse.)
  • Temple Kehillat Chaim, 1145 Green St., Roswell. AA on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Contact Mike Gordon at 770-597-4599 or mcgordon@mindspring.comfor information.
  • Temple Beth Tikvah, 9955 Coleman Road, Roswell. Families Anonymous on Mondays at 7:15 p.m. Contact Jeff Schultz at 404-213-0604 or Jeanne Schultz at 678-938-1302.


  • Quieting the Silence is a night of Jewish mental health and substance abuse education presented by Temple Sinai, 5645 Dupree Drive, Sandy Springs, and the Blue Dove Foundation with The Berman Center and HAMSA at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24.
  • Sober holiday celebrations, such as a Sober Seder held Tuesday, April 3, at Temple Sinai, are being planned and added to the HamsaHelps website throughout the year.
  • A sober Birthright Israel trip is being organized for July by Israel Free Spirit ( to help young Jews in recovery or affected by addiction to reconnect with their heritage and the Jewish community.
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