While the opioid epidemic has reached every corner of America, the close-knit Bukharian Jewish Community in Queens has been particularly affected, rattled by a recent spike in opioid related deaths.
To combat this, and the stigma around it, the UJA Federation of New York has unveiled a new initiative turning community centers and synagogues across North Queens—places where the majority of Bukharian Jews gather—into free Narcan kit distribution centers, with backing from the Jewish Board.
«It’s a partnership that feels more meaningful than being a dispensary of kits,» says Rivka Nissel, LCSW, director of Jewish community services at the Jewish Board, a program within the Jewish Board that has a specific intent to provide culturally sensitive services to the Jewish communities of New York. «This is what happens when people on the ground get up and say, ‘We are going to organize a response. We are going take this into our own hands.’ And the Jewish Board is honored to partner in that way.»
The initiative was conceived by David Aronov who serves as the UJA-Federation of New York’s Bukharian liaison as a unique solution to a pervasive problem; traditional approaches used in other communities for awareness campaigns might not have been as effective here due to cultural differences and the distrust of outsiders.
«It’s been months in the making,» Aronov said over the phone to the Bukharian Times. «While I didn’t have a clear plan upon joining UJA, I was committed to addressing the opioid epidemic within the community. I didn’t enter this endeavor with a predefined approach, given the various partners and organizations already working in the space, both within and beyond the broader Jewish community. My intention was to create an approach that would minimize the stigma and shame surrounding the issue within our tightly-knit community. And Narcan emerged as an ideal solution due to its accessibility and potential to spark conversations around the problem.»
Identifying key community touchpoints, such as synagogues, events, and centers, which play significant roles in the community’s youth engagement, «our aim was to ensure geographical diversity so that individuals wouldn’t need to travel far for a Narcan kit,» said Aronov.
The program launch took place at the BJCC on July 25 where 12 community members were given Narcan kits—a prescription-drug nasal spray that immediately revives a person who has overdosed from opioids, bringing them back to life, while you call 911—to distribute for free as needed. Individual trainings took place earlier so that the community members could teach others to do the same—i.e., be Narcan kit advocates and educators. (It’s worth noting that Narcan doesn’t have any negative effects if administered to someone not overdosing.)
Regarding anonymity, «individuals can reach out to the designated point person on the flyer. However, New York regulations require the person providing the Narcan to conduct a training on its usage, preventing fully anonymous distribution,» said Aronov.
Ending the Stigma

The messaged drilled home at the launch event was that Narcan kits are like fire extinguishers: Everyone should have one at home, but hopefully you’ll never have to use it.
Then again, having one on hand may just save a life.
New York City Health reported 2,668 overdose deaths in 2021, a 26% increase from the year before. The majority of these deaths were because of Fentanyl.
«The [danger] about Fentanyl is that there’s no smell, there’s no taste. You can’t see it. So, you don’t know if your drugs have fentanyl in it,» said Aronov. «A lot of these deaths have happened to be people who have taken drugs before and nothing has happened before, and they just take the wrong dose with fentanyl in it and that’s it.»
How many of these are Bukharian?
«The stats are not clear because nobody’s keeping track within the community,» said Aronov. «Secondly, they’re not reported to the city because of the shame and the stigma in the community. Instead, they might get reported as a heart attack, so we don’t know the exact number. We know that it’s been several dozen over the last several years.»
That’s because everyone in the Bukharian Community seems to know someone who has died or been affected by a death. COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue, impacting mental health trends and fentanyl-related dangers.
Hopefully, free Narcan kits will change that.

Where can you find a free Narcan Kit in Queens?

The 12 community distribution sites include: Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Briarwood; LeFrak City Jewish Center (Corona); Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim (Flushing); Netzach Outreach (Flushing); Anshey Shalom (Forest Hills); Beth Gavriel Bukharian Congregation (Forest Hills); Bukharian Jewish Community Center (Forest Hills); Emet Outreach (Fresh Meadows); Shaare Shlomo (Fresh Meadows); Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Jamaica Estates; House of Torah (Jamaica Estates); and Congregation Ner Mordechai (Kew Gardens).
All of these sites can provide free Narcan kits to anyone in the community who needs them. Just ask.
«We also think it would be helpful for the Bukharian community to know about our outpatient clinic in Rego Park (97-77 Queens Blvd) that can provide outgoing psychotherapy and psychiatry services,» added Nissel. (The outpatient clinic accepts insurance.)
«But I want to be clear that I don’t think it’s specific. This is not a specific problem to the Bukharian community. [The new initiative is] just a specific solution that this community came up with. And I think other communities can take note of that and ask themselves, what are we doing?»

For more information on accessing Narcan, contact Devora Jaye at The Jewish Board at 347-735-0583 or email The Rego Park Counseling Center is located at 97-77 Queens Blvd and can be reached at 718-896-9090.

Erin Levi