“How many people here know someone who has died of a drug overdose?”
More than half of the people in the Long Beach Middle School auditorium raised their hands, a chilling reminder of just how far the community has to go in the fight against addiction, specifically addiction to heroin.
RipLB, an organization formed to help stem the tide of drug abuse in Long Beach, held an event on July 25 to share information about addiction and unite the community in the fight against what many feel is an epidemic. The event drew a crowd of more than 250, who were given information about treatment and recovery options, and heard stories of hope from those going through recovery or experiencing it with a loved one.
Jenn Lebowitz, a lifetime Long Beach resident who said she had recognized a disastrous trend among her peers, formed RipLB in February. “I had been hearing for the past year that once a month, someone I grew up with had died of a preventable tragedy,” she said.
In February, when two fatal overdoses were reported on the same day in Long Beach, that was her breaking point, Lebowitz said, adding, “I felt moved to do something about it.”
She started a Facebook page that month, not knowing what would come of it. By the next day, the page had 1,500 likes. She knew she wasn’t alone in feeling that more needed to be done to try to prevent these tragedies. The group came up with its name as a way to honor the people who have died too soon as a result of substance abuse.
The group has three focuses, Lebowitz said. RipLB aims to be a central hub of information, connecting people with resources and making information about symptoms, treatment and recovery accessible. It also wants to combat the stigma associated with addiction, to emphasize that it is a disease and that it’s OK to ask for help, and to create a cultural shift, promoting wellness and sober ways to have fun, which can be a challenge in a city like Long Beach.
“So many people are suffering in silence,” Lebowitz said. “Why not come together and talk about this stuff?”