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The War on Drugs, The Drug Epidemic, and History Repeating Itself

Where did the war on drugs begin? And when will it end?

In 1898 diacetylmorphine, better known as heroin, was synthesized in a lab in Germany. It was called “safe” and “free from addiction forming properties.” If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In the late 1990’s, the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma, began marketing OxyContin as a safe and non-habit-forming way to treat pain. At the beginning, similarly to the use of diacetylmorphine, people were over prescribed and overusing this dangerous narcotic, that did in fact cause physiological addiction. So, was 1898 the beginning of the opioid epidemic?

When we think about addiction and the opioid epidemic, we usually think about heroin or OxyContin pills, white suburbia and an injured teen that was prescribed pills from there family doctor who didn’t know better. The problem isn’t just opioids or pills or heroin that our doctor prescribed. When we let this dialogue take over, we are actually ignoring huge parts of history that fueled the flames of the secretive nature of addiction, the stigma against addicts, and created a drug epidemic. We created the war on drugs, and the epidemic we are in the midst of right now is a direct result of that.

The beginning of the end

Drug use for medicinal and recreational purposes was happening in the United States since the county’s inception in in the 1700’s. In the 1890’s you could buy syringes filled with cocaine at Sears, drink Coca-Cola with cocaine instead of sugar, or get prescribed heroin for a headache, and liquor for foot pain. However, between the 1870’s and 1903, that slowly began to change. Coca-Cola changed its cocaine into sugar in 1903, and recreational use of cocaine began to dwindle and be judged by the public. By 1914 The Harrison Narcotic Act was enacted, which controlled the sale of opium and cocaine, within the next five years Prohibition was added to the Constitution, and so started America’s negative beliefs about drugs, alcohol and the people who consume them.

By 1930 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, precursor of the DEA, was formed under President Hoover. The commissioner, Harry J. Anslinger, lobbied for harsh penalties for drug use- from marijuana to cocaine and heroin. Anslinger was a huge proponent for complete prohibition of cannabis and played a pivotal role in the criminalization of addiction.  The first drug that Anslinger worked towards criminalizing and demonizing was marijuana. Anslinger found three cases where perpetrators had been high on marijuana when committing a violent crime and fed them to the media, along with testimony from one doctor who agreed that there was a connection between violence and marijuana use. This belief put thousands of people behind bars for nonviolent marijuana offenses, such as Samuel Caldwell who was arrested and sentenced to four years for selling two joints in 1937.

The War on Drugs

In 1971, President Nixon declares that drug abuse is public enemy number one, and thus the war of drugs and addicts is waged. In 1973 the DEA was created to tackle illegal drug smuggling, drug selling and drug using in the United States. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s we began seeing more and more anti-drug propaganda, such as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. This campaign was paired with heavily race-based media hysteria regarding crack cocaine. Over the next 20 years, jail populations increased twelvefold. This number has multiplied by one person sentenced for nonviolent drug related offenses every 25 seconds since.

In recent years, we have focused heavily on the smuggling of drugs from Mexico and China into the United States, with concerns of fentanyl and the hundreds of people dying daily from overdose. The war on drugs has waged on, waxing and waning throughout the years as other policies have seemed more appealing to tackle. We continued to criminalize addiction until it hit white suburbia. Now, court systems are quick to offer pretrial intervention, drug court, and treatment over jail time. While America continues to wage a war on drugs, other countries have sought new approaches to aid in the end of a drug epidemic that has killed countless people since prohibition began. In Portugal they even went as far as decriminalizing personal use of any and all drugs in an effort to stop over population of jails and end the stigma and shame that surrounds the disease of addiction. In the U.S. legalization of marijuana in several states and the District of Columbia has led to a more tolerant political view on recreational drug use, but reports are showing that it hasn’t helped with those suffering with addiction and could even be making it worse.

The Scary Truth

The truth of the matter is that nobody knows how to tackle the issue of substance abuse, the drug epidemic or opioid crisis ravaging America right now. We are not at a place where we can decriminalize all drugs and hope for the best, too many lives have been lost, too many people are still grappling with the idea of safe injection facilities or medication assisted treatment. Yet, we also know we can’t “Just Say No” or incarcerate people out of addiction. In fact, release after incarceration is one of the times people run the highest risks of overdose. So…what can we do?

All we can do now is work together to prevent harm and offer the highest quality treatment we can to help those willing to make a change. There is no end in sight for the war on drugs, and crisis we are seeing with fentanyl related deaths (in opioids, cocaine and counterfeit pills) is only getting worse. The best way to end the war on drugs is to help those suffering with addiction get the help they need. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. This is an issue throughout America and has been since the 1800’s. The war on drugs is built on stigma and villainizing addicts. You are not a villain, and you deserve help. End the war on drugs by ending the war within yourself.


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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.


Mark signature

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.