Some Tragedies Are Preventable

“If you only cared, when I was fragile and scared.”

That’s the title of a poem, written by a 20-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman and published on a well-known news website last week, with her family’s permission. She passed away last month in her Boro Park home, the victim of an overdose.

My heart breaks for her family members who love her, and for the community that supported her and now mourns her passing.

Compounding the tragedy is the sad fact that her story is not unique. Last year, nearly four New Yorkers died every day of a drug overdose. Fewer people died from homicides and car crashes combined.

The opioid epidemic is a public health emergency, and no community is immune. We are all hurting.

But we can all be healers, too. Every overdose death is preventable. And addiction — just like every mental illness — is treatable.

Too often, though, stigma gets in the way of treatment and recovery. As First Lady of New York City, I travel around the city regularly, and so many people — Jewish, Christian, Muslim; Caribbean, Russian, Indian — all voice the same concern. Their lives have been touched by mental illness, but they’re too ashamed to talk about it and worry that it will be viewed as a religious sin.

Here’s the truth: addiction is a disease. It’s not a sin, a moral failing or a lack of discipline. And until we start talking about it the same way we now talk about cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure, we’re not going to make any progress.

Hamodia publisher Ruth Lichtenstein took an important step this month, arguing powerfully for the chareidi community to come together, self-educate and take action.

New York City is here to help. Through ThriveNYC, we are working with all of the city’s diverse communities to change the culture around mental health, and revolutionize the way we deliver critical services.

Today, anyone seeking help — for themselves or a loved one — can call 1-888-NYC-WELL. Culturally sensitive help is available in more than 200 languages, including Hebrew and Yiddish, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. New Yorkers from any community can speak to a trained counselor, who can evaluate what kind of assistance the caller or a loved one needs, and then help make the connection to care.

Any New Yorker can also sign up for a mental health first-aid class — learn how to recognize the symptoms of mental distress or addiction, and how to help. And any New Yorker can get trained to save a life with naloxone, a safe medication that reverses opioid overdoses in a matter of minutes and is available at more than 700 pharmacies across the city — without a prescription.

As in the young woman’s poem: “Let’s care about each other’s problems, as if it’s our own/Then the real ‘Ve’ahavta Kamocha’ will be shown.”