On the day I sat down to write this message (5/5/16), the Cape Cod Times reported (in an article written by K.C. Meyers) this grim statistic: In 2015 Cape Cod had the highest rate of deaths from opioid overdoses per capita in the state...Generally, the region has been harder hit by the opioid crisis than other areas of the state. In nine of the past 16 years, the Cape's overdose death rate has ranked in the top five of counties statewide, according to the data from the Department of Public Health. But this is the first time Barnstable County had the highest rate of fatalities, with 30.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
Hardly a week passes in which the Police Log in the Falmouth Enterprise doesn’t report responses to several drug overdoses, some of them fatal. The addiction crisis involving opioids (prescription pain-killers, heroin, fentanyl) has become a white, middle-class phenomenon. Growing numbers of 20-somethings are battling addiction or succumbing to fatal overdoses. And lest we think this is a phenomenon about “others”, please note the amazing consciousness-raising that a member of our congregation–Sam Tarplin–is doing around this issue. Sam is in recovery from his addiction to heroin; he overdosed more than once. That he lived to tell about it and turn his life around, is a testament to good fortune, first-responders, an overdose-reversal drug called Nalaxone (whose brand-name is Narcan), and Sam’s determination and support from family and friends.
This is a public health threat that cannot and must not be ignored. It behooves each and every one of us to educate ourselves on the threat, to evaluate potential responses to this crisis and to be prepared, just as we are with CPR-training, to save the life of someone who overdoses on opioids.
To this end, our congregation is hosting a one-hour Narcan training session provided by the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod on Thursday evening, June 2 at 7:00 PM in Speen Hall. This training session is open to the community and I encourage you to bring friends and neighbors to learn a life-saving skill. Narcan is becoming increasingly available and may be purchased over-the-counter at Walgreens, CVS and other pharmacies. It is my hope that our congregation will include Narcan in its emergency first aid kits because one never can know when it might be needed.
Even as we contend with this massive challenge and weigh the most effective means of helping addicted people get the assistance they need, we would do well as a society to look long and hard at the cost of the “war on drugs”. I commend to you a book by Johann Hari: The End of the Scream - The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (Bloomsbury, 2015) which traces the history and impact of our nation’s criminalization of drug use and which examines successful alternatives in places in a number of countries.
Mindful of our tradition’s assertion that “one who saves a single life save an entire world” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a), I hope you’ll join me on June 2 for this important training. [Please RSVP to the temple office by May 31.]