Catchin' the Bus

While some of us are reading or snoozing on the daily commute to and from the city, two Bergen County mothers are brainstorming ways to combat opioid addiction.

When Belinda Greenfield (left) and Allegra Schorr take the Rockland Coach #20 to the city, they’re often discussing an issue that threatens the lives of many: opioid addiction.

What mother doesn’t want a better future for her kids? Allegra Schorr of Cresskill and Belinda Greenfield of Tenafly want that—and more. They’re working to find solutions for dealing with the opioid-addiction crisis. The women—Schorr, president of the Coalition of Medications-Assisted Treatment Providers and Advocates (COMPA), and Greenfield, bureau director of New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and president of the NY State Opioid Treatment Authority—organized an event, the largest ever, of policy makers and experts to discuss solutions to the epidemic that claims the lives of more than 100 Americans per day.

Here they discuss their work, families and what they can’t live without:

How did you meet? Tell us about your bus connection.
Greenfield: Our bus connection began in 2015 when Allegra became president of COMPA. (We’d been working together since 2006.) Once we realized that we lived in the same county and were only one town from each other, the bus ride was ideal for catching up and coordinating our collective work efforts.

You both work for organizations—either government or non-profit—involved in fighting addiction. How did you get involved in this type of work?
Schorr: I grew up in a family that was immersed in this field. My father ran a substance abuse treatment clinic in New York City, and my cousins, my sister and I are still running it. So, at an early age, I saw people getting help.
G: I have been working for the State of New York since 1998 and in the addiction field for more than 30 years. My background is rehabilitation counseling— working with people who have a disability—and I decided to specialize in behavioral health, that is psychiatric and substance abuse.

“We’re suckers for a happy ending, and recovery is a lifelong happy ending.”

Is there a profile for the “typical” person who becomes addicted?
No there isn’t. People from affluent backgrounds can become addicted; people from good families, who are educated, and who have access to health care can become addicted. The work Allegra and I do is to help ensure people have access to quality medication-assisted treatment services (i.e., methadone and buprenorphine), as this is the most efficacious way to treat opioid addiction.
S: Regardless of their background, many people and their families coping with addiction share a sense of shame. But addiction is a treatable disease that requires medical intervention, not moral judgment.

How do your families feel about your work?
G: My family is very supportive. They often say that my work makes sure that people get the help they need.
S: The work is definitely a family affair. My husband, Dr. Frederick Kahn, is a boardcertified psychiatrist, treating patients with addiction at his practice at Forest Recovery and Psychiatric Group in Paramus. My kids—Zach, 22, and Maria, 19—are in college and both spent their spring break volunteering at the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD) conference. (Editor’s note: This is the event the women co-hosted.)

As mothers, what’s the most important thing you want to communicate to your kids about work?
S: When my children were in middle school, they learned about opioid addiction from some of my patients who were willing to share their stories. Through that experience, my kids learned the danger and the risk of misusing medications. They also learned that addiction is treatable.
G: We need to be proud of the work we do, derive satisfaction and always try to do our best. I want to know that at the end of the day, when I lay my head down to sleep, that I have done the best job I could possibly do. That is my advice to my daughter about how she should view work

What would readers be surprised to learn about you?
G: I am a Dance Mom! I am definitely not crazy and twisted the way the TV show Dance Moms depicts, but I am passionate and truly happy when cheering for my daughter Charlotte, 16, and her fellow dancers when they compete! She has been dancing at Broadway Bound Dance Center in Dumont for the past 14 years. For me, learning about dance and seeing these young dancers perform is extremely gratifying.
S: Shirley Jones taught me to drive a stick shift. I started as an actress and got my Equity card in summer stock on Cape Cod. As a summer intern, I was responsible for dressing the actors, which included taking care of the wardrobe and dressing room for the stars who appeared in the touring shows. I was asked to pick up Ms. Jones from her hotel and drive her across the street to her dressing room. The Town Car was unavailable, and I picked up Shirley Jones and her costumes in an old, beat-up manual shift Firebird that I was still learning to drive. After stalling twice before we left the parking lot, she talked me through easing up on the clutch. She told me that she’d taught all her kids to drive a stick—and I still drive one today.

What can’t you live without?
S: My morning coffee, Sunday night TV and shoes. It’s hard for me to walk away from beautiful shoes.
G: Grilled cheese sandwiches and listening to ABBA. Yes, I will admit it—I am a huge ABBA fan!

Why choose to live in Bergen County? What makes life special here?
S: I feel that I have a slice of country living, and at the same time easy access to NYC. We moved here—I was born and lived in Brooklyn until moving here in 2010— because of the excellent school system.
G: The benefits of being able to work in NYC and yet have the comforts of a suburban life are immeasurable. Balance is extremely important to me.

Tell us about the places you love in the county.
G: The Tenafly Nature Center for one. And I love the great restaurants, such as Axia, Simply Vietnamese, Veggie Heaven, Amarone and Vitales.
S: I love to hike with my children on the Palisades. I go to Energy Gym and love Crushed Garage, Monsoon Gifts and Farmhouse Café in Cresskill. I love going to farm stands, Metropolitan Farm on Hickory Lane and all the shops and entertainment at the new Closter Plaza. When our families visit, they always enjoy Van Saun Park.

What do you do to unwind?
S: I like to cook and have friends over. A friend gave me a sour-dough starter, and I’ve been experimenting with baking bread. And my husband and I like to grow tomatoes and other vegetables. We feed a lot of Bergen’s deer and rabbits every summer.
G: Spending time with family and friends; laughing is a great way to de-stress. I also love horror movies, and my favorite TV shows are Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU.

Any final thoughts?
S: We’re suckers for a happy ending, and recovery is a lifelong happy ending. Belinda and I agree that the best recovery stories share the courageous first step of getting help.

Did You Know? Treatment is almost always covered by insurance in New Jersey. Former Governor Chris Christie and the NJ Legislature enacted laws to help ensure that people in the state would be able to use their insurance to access the care they need.

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