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A Conversation With Thomas McCarry of Zero Overdose

I spoke over Zoom with Thomas McCarry of Zero Overdose, an organization he cofounded that offers psychoeducation about overdose prevention to providers and communities. We talked about his organization, providing individualized overdose prevention strategies, and how communities can work together to reduce overdoses.

I was looking at Zero Overdose, and it’s incredible and very necessary. Can you explain a little about the organization and how it got started?

Sure, sure. My cofounder Verna Little and I were working in a federally qualified health center, one of the largest in New York state. We saw that there was this increase in overdose deaths, and that they were within identified risk populations: people that were in an early parenting group, people who were coming out of incarceration.

We were looking at what types of tools and resources were out there for overdose prevention, and there was just a gap; it was either treatment or Narcan. That didn’t really meet the needs of everyone, and it wasn’t reaching people soon enough.

We started looking at what types of care pathways there were for other forms of preventable death. There has been so much research and evidence-based practices related to suicide prevention, so that’s where we decided to start. We modeled the suicide safety planning to something which was more tailored to individualized harm reduction and overdose prevention strategies. Not just handing someone a general list of harm reduction and overdose prevention strategies, but going much further and learning about the individual’s unique risk factors. Our goal was to provide tailored psychoeducation, and to support that through traditional behavioral health and primary care settings.

That’s interesting; my next question is related to that. I know that people’s triggers and the coping skills that will be effective to them are so individual. How do you balance training people to give individualized care versus the coping strategies that have proven effective?

That’s a great question. What I can say is that [what I spoke about before] was the origin story—within traditional healthcare settings—but since then we’ve really expanded to use overdose safety planning in community-based organizations. Seeing what that looks like from a whole community approach, where we’re training first responders, drug courts, probation. Really looking at anyone who’s working with people at risk for overdose, as this could be a valuable entry point to talking about overdose prevention and harm reduction.

Each has some unique challenges as to the question you asked: how do you train people to work with individuals and help them develop personalized strategies? That can be very different in different settings.

You would think that this would work seamlessly in substance use treatment programs because they’re already having conversations about substance use, but sometimes it can be a challenge. Many people who are working in substance use treatment are there because of their own personal experiences, and perhaps come from and survive by an abstinence-based approach.

Some people are more open to it, and other people may see a discrepancy between trying to help people get sober but also talking to them about safer use practices. That discrepancy needs to be resolved, so there are different ways of working with individuals and also helping staff that are trying to navigate this.

But we know that in order for people to be able to get into recovery, you need to have safer use.

Right, nobody gets into recovery if they’re dead. We have to look at it from a human, compassionate approach. While we can support people with whatever their goals are, we can’t just put our head in the sand and say that we don’t talk about overdose prevention. Successful implementation also includes having buy-in from senior leadership, and talking with the staff to get an understanding of the cultural approach. Bringing everyone to the table in the interventions.

So it’s not just individualized with the triggers and coping skills that people have, but also for the organization that you’re working with.

Yeah, and that gives the opportunity for the champions who are already doing this kind of stuff to speak up. There are people who have been having these types of conversations for decades. It’s bringing the voice from within the community—that includes staff and systems—and hearing from the people who are most invested.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Arms Acres Conifer Park, it’s one of the largest residential treatment programs in New York state. Just before COVID, we were going to roll out a pilot with them to have people complete an overdose safety plan at the time of intake. That can also be challenging—adding anything to an intake—because they’re already really full. But having that integrated into their treatment along the course of their stay is bridging both.

While you’re in treatment, you can think about what it was like before you were there and consider what your risk factors might be when you leave. The hope was that having a more direct conversation around overdose prevention would increase the likelihood that someone follows through to the next point of care.

I was going to ask if you talk about relapse prevention and follow-up in the trainings.

Yeah, and one way we can make it a little more palatable is to say, ‘What can people do in the event that they resume use,’ versus ‘What are you going to do when you start using again?’ People can be like, ‘What, you don’t think I’m going to make it?’

You can give a lot of credit to individuals. They are their own true experts. They may be very open to acknowledging that this has been a rocky road for them, that there have been times of abstinence and times of resuming use. So helping them think about those periods of time and what they could do or have done to prevent dying from an overdose—or ideally avoid having the overdose in the first place.

And what does a typical training session look like? I know you make them different for each place.

Yeah, so we recently started offering a two and a half hour overdose safety planning specialist course. It’s obviously easier to get people to show up for an hour, or an organization says, ‘We want to do this; we’ve got a staff meeting that’s an hour and a half.’ But we found that it was really crammed with information.

You’re providing an introduction to harm reduction, weaving in motivational interviewing, then also explaining what the safety plan is and the steps for completing one. It doesn’t allow for much conversation. It isn’t very interactive. It ends up being a one-and-done training; we come in and do the training and go away, and we don’t really have much feedback from the organization or the providers.

Making that more expanded gives us the opportunity for a lot more interaction. We go through case presentations and vignettes. We have the participants walk through the development of the safety plan, and practice what it sounds like to even introduce the conversation.

We’ve also moved the interaction portions to much earlier in the training. The first training that I did, we did the practices at the end. It was three hours, and I had basically been talking about harm reduction for two hours. Then we did this introduction of a case study, and I said ‘Okay, so what recommendations might you have?’ Everyone was like, ‘Well, maybe she doesn’t go to the party,’ or, ‘She goes, but she doesn’t use any drugs.’ I’m like, ‘We’re going to assume that she wants to go to the party and that she’s going to use drugs.’ That was eye-opening to me. So we get people talking sooner, to start to flesh out if people are not on track.

Yeah, to see where they’re at.

It’s about creating a safe environment. How do we really demonstrate that this is a safe place to talk about things? Many people have experienced that being honest about their substance use has negative consequences. We have to acknowledge that there’s been trauma, that there’s been misuse of information. How do we embody a person-centered way of giving care and show them that there’s no wrong door?  How do we help people at the moment they’re reaching out to us?

Do you ever work with individuals who are at risk for overdose, or is it mostly organizations?

So far, our work is not in direct care. It’s more working with treatment programs and community-based organizations—and looking at state and local governments—to help create a Zero Overdose community.

We’re actually working with Tulsa, Oklahoma to develop a very systemic approach—to have trainings in their drug courts with their district attorney, with their firefighters, with their methadone programs. Really the whole spectrum of care, and how it’s all different but can work together.

I was going to ask if it’s just New York, but you’re saying you work with other states.

Yeah, definitely. We do a lot of work with the National Council for Wellbeing, formerly the National Council for Behavioral Health. They do a lot of work with community-based organizations and have grants through SAMHSA, the CDC. We do learning communities and echo projects with them.

I was just up in Alaska last month and did a presentation with the Alaska Behavioral Health Organization. We’re also partnering with an organization in Puerto Rico to apply for open settlement funding there.

It’s exciting. We get to talk with people across the country and get an understanding of how it’s similar and different.

Yeah, that’s really cool. And how can people get involved with your work?

Checking out our social media, our website. Following us on social media or signing up for our mailing list is a great way to stay in touch.

We routinely have free introductory webinars for organizations to learn what we do. The next one will be on our website in the “upcoming trainings” tab. Then we also offer  overdose safety planning specialist trainings. The next one’s going to be in early May and that’s a two and a half hour training. That’s really the capstone of what we’re able to do at this time, and it’s available for individuals and organizations. We can arrange small group trainings and be flexible to the needs of an organization. If there are associations or groups, we can also do introductory webinars and just provide some information.

I also always encourage organizations to think about availability for funding. We love working with people to apply for opioid settlement funding, state and local initiatives. That’s also a great way to partner.

Is there anything we didn’t talk about that you want to add?

What I’d like to say first is that we’re in an epidemic. It’s really important that every system is doing what they can towards the cause. Thinking of COVID or other epidemics, everyone comes together, and it really has that community support. We have the opportunity to say, ‘Well, how is overdose different,’ to think about the stigma that is related to substance use and how we overcome that.  There is a discrepancy between the available resources for other forms of preventable death and those for overdose prevention.

Part of all this is trying to mobilize anyone who is in the position of making an impact towards overdose prevention. Further upstream than Naloxone and Narcan, which is super important, but that’s when someone’s already had an overdose. There are interventions that can be done to prevent overdoses in the first place, which should be the aim. When we think of overdose prevention, oftentimes we’re thinking about preventing people from dying from overdose—which is the safety net and essential—but we can do so much more.


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As we continue to grow Amatus Health, the need to stay competitive and differentiate ourselves in unique ways is crucial. Building creative approaches to reach more people will take our company to new heights. This is why I am pleased to announce that we are officially rebranding. Our new national name, TruHealing Addiction & Mental Health Treatment, will eventually replace Amatus Recovery Centers.

You may be asking, “Why are we doing this?” This new name will give us national uniformity and help brand ourselves as a whole, which will be done in phases. You will still see our existing facility names co-branded with TruHealing for the time being.

Healing is what we do. Everyone who comes through our doors is in a moment of profound struggle in their lives. We support them through a life-changing process of healing and recovery, and they leave our facilities changed. This new name is a representation of that process. As mentioned above, it also allows us to have a national brand, which will make us a recognizable name in the addiction and mental health field.

In summation, these changes present an excellent opportunity for our organization to develop our mission, vision, and purpose. I look forward to prosperous growth as we head in a new and positive direction.


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Mark Gold
Amatus Health

Dr. Adam Cusner, PhD is an organizational psychologist by training and has brought his decade-plus experience to the healthcare field serving as the Executive Vice President of Operations for a 22-facility portfolio of skilled nursing facilities, assisted living and independent living centers across Ohio and Arizona, with an annual revenue over $250MM. While serving in this position, Dr. Cusner brought accelerated growth to these facilities, while increasing employee retention and workflow optimization. Dr. Cusner has a proven track record in the healthcare industry of providing successful leadership through his financial acumen, strategic planning, interpersonal skills, along with his ability to build strong, effective teams.


Dr. Cusner’s credentials include a Philosophy Doctorate in Organizational Psychology (PhD) from Cleveland State University, a Master of Arts in Psychology (MA) from Boston College with an emphasis on Psychology of Work, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology (BS) from Boston University with an emphasis in Organizational Behavior in Business and is a board-certified Nursing Home Administrator (LNHA). He has published and presented research articles in the field of organizational psychology at national healthcare conferences. Dr. Cusner is completing a book on organizational psychology in the healthcare field, which is expected to be published late early summer 2022. He is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), has served as the APA’s Division 17 communications chair, is a member of the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), and was selected as a professional reviewer for national conference research presentations.


Dr. Cusner is an advocate for his employees and is drawn to the tie between culture and quality. His extensive strategic and operational skills have delivered a high degree of success across all department levels. Dr. Cusner facilitated the establishment of an in-house financial team to provide billing and collections, accounts payable, vendor management, along with financial reporting. This provided $1.5MM annualized savings. Further, he developed department efficiencies for: Medical Staff recruitment, service-line growth, quality and safety, corporate accountability of budgetary expectations balanced with direct reporting to investor groups.


Dr. Cusner coordinated the financial turnaround of a 300 bed CCRC (skilled nursing, assisted living and an independent living center) in Arizona, which has been epitomized as the most financially challenging state to manage CCRC facilities. Dr. Cusner also strengthened the business growth of the Ohio facilities by 12%. He was recognized by the Governor for demonstrating a “care-conscious approach” during COVID, when Dr. Cusner carefully consolidated facility residents to accommodate staff and improve clinical care. Dr. Cusner demonstrates a results-driven culture by delivering a high-quality level of care and employee engagement.

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Yaffa Atias is the Director of Special Projects at Amatus Health. Atias is a leadership professional with a decade of experience in healthcare. She holds a BA in interdisciplinary studies from Thomas Edison State College, and a Master’s in Healthcare Management with a concentration in project management from Stevenson University. She completed her graduate capstone at Mosaic Community Services, now an affiliate of Sheppard Pratt.


In her role at Amatus, Atias leads and manages interdisciplinary team projects, creates solutions for any operational gaps, and continually strives for quality improvement in all processes. Atias led the organization’s COVID-19 preparedness strategy, resulting in all facilities remaining operational, and in 600 employees being retained as staff without resigning out of fear. In her role so far, she implemented licensure for three new states.


Atias believes Amatus Health and TruHealing stand out because every employee, from corporate to center staff, has a real passion for helping people. Atias shares this passion, “My natural compass always tugged me to behavioral health. I’ve always been fascinated by the human psyche. I have also been intimately privy to those suffering from mental illness and substance use. I later understood that my experiences weren’t unique, and quickly realized how pressing the need really is to effectively prevent and address. Moreover, how life-changing proper intervention truly is.”


Atias was born in Los Angeles, California and grew up in Israel and Maryland.

Melissa McCarthy is the Vice President of Business Development at Amatus Health. With a decade of experience in the behavioral healthcare and addiction treatment industry, McCarthy is passionate about recovery. She has her finger on the pulse of marketing trends, with the end goal of helping businesses grow so they can serve more people in need.


McCarthy has worked at large enterprise recovery centers across the country spearheading business development teams. She has a wide range of experience, including transforming a third-party digital marketing and client acquisition services company into a full-continuum behavioral healthcare provider, managing several successful rebrands, and growing annual revenue fivefold.


As VP of Business Development, McCarthy leads a team of over 20 business development professionals nationwide. She manages client acquisition, coordinates in-service trainings with various referents and hospitals, and presents at conferences on addiction and mental health disorder treatment.


“Sadly, many individuals die waiting for access to life-saving behavioral healthcare services,” says McCarthy. “I am in relentless pursuit of better—better access, better care delivery and better outcomes. I consider it a privilege to work in an environment where miracles unfold daily.”


McCarthy lives in Maryland with her daughter.

Hometown: Saugus, MA


Passions & interests: The greatest passion of mine is being able to dig into the work with men in early recovery. There is nothing better than witnessing and being a part of the change. My journey in long-term recovery has taught me to value the little things in life that I am now able to do. I love to do anything that allows me to be present with my wife, family, and friends. My wife and I enjoy traveling, trying new foods, and taking long motorcycle rides with our friends. If I am not on the road working or with my wife, I am studying or playing softball.


The best part of my job is being able to show up for my team and clients; they all mean the world to me. I get to brainstorm and strategize with tons of different personalities. A lot of the team does not know, but I love learning from them. If I am not learning something about our industry or workplace, I am certainly learning how to effectively collaborate with different types of individuals.


Together, we can change the narrative and be a part of the solution to better treat those trapped in the problem.

Allison was born in Columbus, Ohio and was raised in South Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. After college, Allison started working at the largest talent agency in the world, William Morris Endeavor. There, she learned marketing from top leaders specializing in global PR and endorsement campaigns, in both the Latin and English markets.


Through strategic public relations and creative campaign concepts, Allison has secured more than 200 national broadcast and print media placements for behavioral healthcare organizations. She brings over 15 years of marketing and PR experience, with a strong background in leading communications strategy for addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare facilities. In her role as VP of Communications, she oversees branding, public relations, social media, marketing, events, and content creation.


In her spare time, she loves cooking, boating, yoga, and traveling. She and her husband Bryan reside in Boca Raton, Florida.

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Avi Burstein is VP of Clinical Services at Amatus Health. He manages all therapeutic programming at all facilities nationwide.


Avi is originally from New York, and graduated from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He brings over 13 years of experience in the Behavioral Healthcare Industry, in both the public and private sectors. He is passionate about therapeutic communities and the fellowship they foster between patients. Through his work in LGBTQIA, urban, rural, and religiously observant populations, Avi recognizes that each patient is unique. Therefore, he strives to ensure clinical approaches, staffing, administration, and education meet the expectation of each community Amatus Health serves.


“Our work must also include ending the societal stigma surrounding such conditions by building safe and supportive networks that include clients’ families whenever possible,” Avi said. “By valuing change and owning imperfections, we can strive to be better providers and walk through the door of recovery with our clients.”

Avi Burstein is VP of Clinical Services at Amatus Health. He manages all therapeutic programming at all facilities nationwide.


Avi is originally from New York, and graduated from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He brings over 13 years of experience in the Behavioral Healthcare Industry, in both the public and private sectors. He is passionate about therapeutic communities and the fellowship they foster between patients. Through his work in LGBTQIA, urban, rural, and religiously observant populations, Avi recognizes that each patient is unique. Therefore, he strives to ensure clinical approaches, staffing, administration, and education meet the expectation of each community Amatus Health serves.


“Our work must also include ending the societal stigma surrounding such conditions by building safe and supportive networks that include clients’ families whenever possible,” Avi said. “By valuing change and owning imperfections, we can strive to be better providers and walk through the door of recovery with our clients.”

Marty Markovits is the Chief Information Officer at TruHealing. He oversees the people, processes, and technologies of the whole organization to ensure the business is running smoothly.


Markovits grew up in Brooklyn, NY (which he calls “the greatest city on Earth”) and graduated with a degree in Clinical Psychology from Queens College.


Markovits is a veteran in Information Technology within the healthcare field. He ensures that IT processes are simple, cost-effective, and secure. His expertise spans the entire healthcare domain, from billing and claims, to clinical, to Human Resources. He says, “My passion is to provide fully automated and operationally meaningful Business Intelligence analytics, with absolute data integrity.”

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Hometown: Savannah, GA


Passions & Interests: I spend my time outside of work with my wife and children and am actively involved in various community needs and causes.


The best part of my job is knowing that we are creating a safe, healthy, nonjudgmental environment where people can come and better their lives. There is nothing more satisfying than helping others learn to live again and piece their lives back together as they become strong, productive members of society.

Together, we can bring families back together and promote healing and well-being.


With over 16 years of proven executive leadership and driving company growth, Mark Gold’s momentum for success isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He serves as the CEO of Amatus Health, one of the fastest-growing, behavioral healthcare organizations in the country.

Possessing an excellent handling of clinical compliance and high performance standards, Mark established 14 CARF/JCT accredited addiction and mental health treatment centers and three ancillary healthcare businesses. Mark’s natural leadership skills as well as his creative thought process to generate new revenue strategies make him one of the most sought-after professionals in healthcare. Mark has a track record of leading organizations to outstanding ROI on overall portfolio performance. In addition, his expertise includes workforce planning, growth revenue, high client and investor satisfaction.

Aside from daily business oversight, Mark invests in his staff and helps build their professional development. His commitment to his colleagues and employees toward advancement and inclusiveness helps them achieve goals, builds connections, and provides a competitive advantage in the healthcare field.

Corporate and Charitable Leadership

Mark has been instrumental in building healthy communities and providing access and quality healthcare to underserved populations. His service in the community is a testament to his passion and selfless dedication to the cause of eradicating addictive disorders and stigma.

He launched several prevention and education programs and created the first-ever “Social Justice” scholarship fund of over $750,000.00 to help communities of color into inpatient drug treatment. Mark says, “The best part of my role is the knowledge that what we do impacts countless lives, with far-reaching effects,” he said. “It is incredibly rewarding to be part of a team that guides individuals onto a safe and accessible path to healing and recovery.”

He is a board member of Ahavas Chaim, a non-profit that offers at-risk teenagers crisis intervention and mental health support. He is also a committee member of the organizations Bonei Olam and Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic.

Personal and Educational Background

Mark studied Talmudic Law at Yeshiva’s Mir Yerushalayim in Israel. In Mark’s free time, he loves snowboarding, boating, and spending time with his wife and children.