Children on Drugs Within the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Community…. Is Technology Making Them More Accessible or Are they Being Provided to Sedate Children???
by LostMessiah, March 21, 2016
Several months ago, we were told by some kids from various Brooklyn neighborhoods that drug and alcohol addiction within the ultra-Orthodox community is rampant. It was suggested that children who are willful are given sedatives and in some cases alcohol to make them less unwieldy. While sources at a number of treatment facilities were willing to acknowledge that the population of ultra-Orthodox kids with drug problems is higher than most would think; due to HIPAA, confidentiality and other privacy laws, we could not get information on the reasons for the staggering percentages of addicts within the ultra-Orthodox population. While probing people in treatment centers for a response regarding our question of whether it is possible that kids become addicts because of an introduction of drugs and alcohol in schools to sedate them, not only did the question not yield answers, but the lack of an adequate response was quite telling.
We remain unable to reconcile the numbers of kids within the communities addicted to drugs, anything from prescription drugs to heroin, with the sheltered lives of the kids in many of these communities.
Then, we came across a series of articles regarding drug addiction in the Orthodox community and thought there might be something to the whisperings of the kids.
In an article entitled, “Coming out of Denial Drug Addiciton in the Orthodox Community, published in Jewish Action The Magazine of the Orthodox Union” from December 4, 2015, Bayla Sheva Brenner, the author of the article quotes a number of sources:
“We’ve had over two dozen deaths related to overdoses in our community in the past year,” says Zvi Gluck, founder of Amudim Community Resources, a Manhattan-based organization offering assistance to Orthodox Jews in crisis.
“Painkillers have become huge,” says Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, founder and director of Ohr Naava Women’s Torah Center in Brooklyn. “You get a root canal, you get a tooth pulled, and you get codeine. With all the prescribed oxycodone [out there], it’s easy to get one’s hands on.”
Not surprisingly, abuse of prescribed opiate painkillers often leads to heroin use. “There’s a [typical] progression,” says Menachem Poznanski, the clinical director of The Living Room, a post-rehab program in Brooklyn and Wesley Hills, New York, catering to Orthodox teens. “Pot to painkillers to heroin. [Moreover, nowadays], heroin is cheaper and more available.”
Our Place, an Orthodox-run drop-in center for troubled Jewish youth in Brooklyn, services around 800 to 1,000 teens each year, representing every segment of the community. Our Place staff report that it’s not uncommon to find substance-dependent kids as young as fourteen coming to the center.
“We’re addressing a population that [consists of], for the most part, drop outs from school,” says Rabbi Aryeh Young, executive director of Our Place. “They’re roaming the streets; they come in late at night, get up late in the morning and avoid communicating with their families. Some are living in crash pads, with friends or with someone they met at a party. Others are passing through stages of homelessness.”
While the article purports to blame the internet for accessibility of drugs, and changing attitudes about drug use for its widespread usage, that does not mesh with the communities with which we are familiar. Many of the children, at least in areas like Boro Park, Crown Heights, New Square and Monsey don’t have access to the internet or to computers and certainly don’t have access to “changing attitudes.” The walls of their community bind them to the community with little understanding of the outside world. It is therefore somewhat troubling to see an article which places blame for drug use, at least initially, on outside influences when many of the children don’t have access to the outside. Moreover, in areas like New Square, Monsey, KJ, Crown Heights and Boro Park, the kids are so sheltered, their English so limited, it is inconceivable that they would magically decide to begin trying their parents’ painkillers. We therefore cannot rule out the possibility
In addressing the issues of the psyche that create addictive personalities, addiction and what it takes to come clean, there are some insightful points as follows.
“Experts reveal that there are various factors that lead to addictive behavior, including failing to live up to parental expectations, as well as sexual, physical, verbal or emotional abuse. “All of my therapists will tell you that over fifty percent of their clients [suffer from sexual abuse of one form or another],” says Rabbi Young.
Another factor is failing to fit in. Although the mainstream yeshivah structure works well for the majority of its students, for a significant number of addicts it was torture. They found the acceptance they craved in the streets. “Some of our children can’t find a connection within that system; they struggle in these institutions. It’s a reality,” says Rabbi Silver. “They need other [educational] programs in order to move them to the next level.”
“If we are going to invest in yeshivot, the foundation of the community, we have to take care of those who have been abused, neglected or just don’t fit in,” says Rabbi Young, who is also a high school boys’ rebbe at Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence, New York. “They should know that they can be loved and supported even if they don’t fit the cookie-cutter model that the yeshivah portrays. Show them we are going to help them find a place, so they [aren’t driven] to commit suicide, overdose or leave the community.”
In an article from The Forward, an article entitled, “For Orthodox, Addiction is Unspoken Problem”, posted on August 13, 2015, Asher Ehrman tells his story. He refers to his childhood in Monsey as great, loving, he could not complain. But, then when he was caught wearing a blue shirt instead of white, his parents kicked him out of his house “to protect his sister’s shidduchI, or marriage prospects and future.” Ehrman describes the rest of his life as “a bit of a blur.”
According to the Author:
“Ehrman’s story of addiction and his struggle to recovery reads like many other experiences of substance abuse, but many Orthodox Jews face obstacles to recovery that are absent for others.
Education about substance abuse doesn’t really exist for a large population of Jews at risk — teens in the Orthodox community, where elitism and separatism create a stigma against talking about risk and getting help. At a turbulent time when many adolescents question their role in the community, they can turn to drugs in their struggle for identity. With the ignorance in the community, both of how to prevent substance abuse and of how to address it if it occurs, some, like Ehrman, become addicts.
It is “a community that’s very much built on secrets and being in denial on a lot of things,” Baila Drucker, the assistant clinical director at the recovery center Beit T’Shuvah, told The Forward by phone. “There is so much energy placed on hiding things, [and] appearing perfect. The community has a superiority complex because they aspire to a higher way of living.””
From these articles, as well as many others on the subject, what is clear is that there exists a drug problem within the Orthodox community and one which faces numerous obstacles, not the least of which is the secretive nature of the community. While neither of these articles substantiate the stories we have been told, they go a long way to acknowledging the existence of a problem.
Anyone with information regarding heavily sedating unwieldy children in the community is welcome to send it along, with advance thanks.
The Voice of Lakewood published an article last week about Yehoshua Finkelstein in commemoration of his shloshim. The article discusses the unfortunate proliferation of the drug problem in our community and recommends establishing Jewish rehabs for those who have been affected. The Voice is known to discuss topics that others would not, so TLS asked The Voice what went into the decision to print the article and was Daas Torah consulted? TVOL responds: As always, whenever a topic like this is printed, Daas Torah is definitely consulted. In this case, much thought and time went into the decision to print it and only after large amounts of the article was cut out and the rest was carefully edited. We do understand that some people may have been offended by it and we truly apologize for that. In the realm of publishing a publisher constantly has to decide when the pros of printing something will outweigh the cons, in this case our rabbinical board felt that it should be published.