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Safe Injection Sites, What?

Drug overdose deaths in 2017 reached a record 72,000 according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two thirds of these deaths were linked to opioids. With the death toll rising, policymakers are desperate for anything that may help. Those who advocate for addiction and mental health reform are continuing to challenge the criminalized framing, arguing that if the goal is to save lives from addiction and overdose, a more compassionate approach is necessary. But what is the difference between compassionate and enabling? That’s the big debate when it comes to safe injection facilities. To many it sounds counterproductive, a place for people addicted to drugs to go and safely shoot up with clean needles and nurse supervision, but safe injection sites help decrease the number of overdoses and the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis and AIDS in the intravenous drug users communities for the past 30 years.

There are over 100 safe use sites operating in nine countries around the world, Switzerland opened the first one in 1986 and Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, Australia and Canada followed suit. The first North American supervised injection site, opened in Vancouver, Canada in 2003. Within two years overdose deaths dropped by 3% according to The Drug Policy Alliance. Vancouver’s InSite program, exempt from federal drug laws, is located in a downtown building where drug users have access to 12 private booths to inject drugs such as heroin or cocaine. In 2016 over 5,000 users were referred to other social/health services. InSite also intervened in over 1,000 overdoses, which could have been fatalities without the site’s services. Safe sites are a form of harm reduction, which means it is put in place to lessen the negative consequence of a behavior. Harm reduction in substance abuse can often get a bad reputation, people on Subutex for years, or people taking the “easy way out” of getting clean and sober. Harm reduction isn’t meant to be an easy way out, it is put in place to help people stay safe. The nurses and social workers who work here are ready to send anyone who is looking for help, to treatment. You cannot choose to go to treatment if you die from an overdose.

The United States has been playing with the idea of safe sites for the past couple of years, in fact Seattle, Washington officials approved the nation’s first site back in January 2017 in a unanimous vote of the King County Board of Health. Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, New Hampshire and Vermont are among the other U.S cities exploring this option. However, none of these cities would be the first in the US to open a safe injection site. There have been numerous underground facilities operating in the country for years. In Brooklyn, NY, there is a “secret site” where people go for a clean needle exchange. They then use the bathroom, were they are monitored by audio and able to use their drug of choice. The facility operator then listens to make sure you are safe in the bathroom. After you then dispose of your needle properly. The facility operators, who study harm reduction, have Narcan on hand in case of an overdose and information on treatment available.

Safe sites status as illegal under the Controlled Substance Act isn’t worrying the people pushing these sites, as they believe the good outweighs the bad when it comes to aiding in overdose prevention, the spreading of infectious diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis, and helping people get into treatment centers.

Seattle Ex-Mayor Ed Murray believed this was a necessary step in reducing deaths in the state of Washington. “These sites save lives and that is our goal in King County,” Murray said in a statement. Although there is no funding for these sites yet, two were approved in both Seattle and King County. King County Board of Health voted on the safe use sites and King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray gave them final approval. Funding for these sites is still unknown, however in a statement made this June by the Seattle Human Services Department, “safe-use vans” will be rolling out within the next year. It will cost an estimated 1.8 million dollars to fund the safe-use vans, which will be considered a King County Public Health ran facility. The van will park in one spot, daily, and will be a place for people to safely inject drugs. There will be social workers, nurses and other professionals working in the van to help support the substance users by connecting them to treatment and making sure they are safe from HIV and other infections, as well as helping aid in overdose prevention.

However, in the northeast progress has been slower. Vermont was one of the states looking into safe injection facilities, until the Attorney General shot down their research and interest. In a statement last year about a proposal to open supervised consumption sites in Vermont, the Justice Department warned that the facilities “would violate federal law.” The Justice Department claimed in a statement, “It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed.” In the neighboring state of New Hampshire, Tim Lahey, a physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and the director of education at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, believes that safe injection sites should be open in hospitals. He thinks it would help the addict to be in a hospital setting and would be viewed as more acceptable since it would be a hospital setting.

In big cities, like Boston and New York, they are less concerned about the federal law and more concerned with saving the lives of the people using these dangerous drugs.

Massachusetts Senator William Brownsberger proposed a bill for safe sites in Boston that has passed, known as S.2508, which gives the state of Massachusetts authorization to investigate if safe sites would work. The Senator strongly believes that, “Safe injection facilities are one possible tool we have to try to stop the deaths from fentanyl. Whether we can get one running in Massachusetts and whether it would work as we might hope remains to be seen.” While many people in Boston are against these sites, Dr. Jessica Gaeta, chief medical officer at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless, has been promoting a similar way to aid in the fight against the opiate epidemic. In March 2016, Gaeta initiated a program that she calls a “safe place.” This facility has chairs where addicts can sit while a nurse monitors vital signs. They can also administer Naloxone in case of an overdose. Gaeta said 400 people had used the facility and about 10% of them have gone directly from the room into treatment. Healthcare for the Homeless has an annual budget of approximately $50 million, about 75% of that comes from third party reimbursements from MassHealth, Medicare and Health Safety Net. The difference between Gaeta’s room is that patients are not be permitted to get high on site, making it less taboo and more in line with federal laws. Massachusetts is in dire need of a new approach considering the 1,990 confirmed opiate related deaths in 2016, according to the Department of Public Health.

In the neighboring state of New York, The New York Daily News reported that the City Council approved $100,000 to study whether to set up safe sites. The $100,000 comes from a $5.6 million budget the city currently has in place to fight against AIDS. According to New York Daily News, the funding was approved by the City Council in September 2016, but nothing has been built yet. Mayor Bill De Blasio said in a statement that, “After a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world, and after careful consideration of public health and safety expert views, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction.” The study will be run by the Health Department and will look at the feasibility of NYC having a safe use site.

In Maryland, one man is pushing for harm reduction and safe injection sites. State House of Delegates member, Dan Morhaim, is also an emergency physician who has seen the opiate epidemic continue to grow. He says he has administered Narcan “many times,” which is why he is pushing for safe injection sites. Morhaim believes his bill for supervised injection sites is just one of many creative approaches that will be needed to solve the heroin problem throughout Maryland. “It’s not going to cure everyone,” he said. “But moving people from more dangerous behavior to less dangerous behavior is progress.”

In cities like Philadelphia, where the epidemic screams to be seen, as homeless set up camps in Kensington square, needles flood the street, they are committing to change, they are committing to saving lives. Given the scope and devastation of the opioid crisis, which has claimed approximately 1,200 lives in 2017, Philly created a comprehensive, 18-point plan to address the different ways this epidemic is affecting our residents and how to help.

Comprehensive User Engagement Sites, known as CUES, are safe injection facilities the city is planning to open up. The CUES are not the only answer, but one option that can help people struggling with substance use disorder stay alive long enough to get into treatment. We know that its possible for people fighting addiction to recover, and it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure that our residents stay alive long enough to get there.

Research suggests that safe sites can be an effective public health strategy. Providing clean needles helps prevent infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C from spreading. When combined with a suite of supportive services for homeless or addicted people looking for help, safe injection sites can create a life-saving pipeline between an addicted population and community health professionals.

Safe-use sites are an important key to the harm reduction method. It is something that needs to be considered in the U.S when dealing with addiction if we want to see the rising number of overdoses go down during this public health crisis. It is also a great way to get those who are still using drugs, to think about or even know about the different treatment options that are available.

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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.

Sincerely,

Mark signature

Mark Gold
CEO
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.

MARK GOLD, CEO OF AMATUS HEALTH BIOGRAPHY

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.