The death of revered actor Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this month has refocused the attention of the nation on the epidemic of drug addiction.
Hoffman, who reportedly died from a heroin overdose, was discovered alone in his New York City apartment with a hypodermic needle in his arm on Feb. 2. Although heroin is widely viewed as the province of the lower classes, Hoffman’s death, say local recovery advocates Zach Snitzer and Sam Bierman, drove home the truth of the matter: Drug addiction is an equal opportunity illness; it does not discriminate.
Snitzer and Bierman, founders of the new Maryland Addiction Recovery Center in Towson, are living proof of this fact. Snitzer, 34, grew up in a Jewish family in Owings Mills and began using drugs at the age of 12; he was addicted to heroin but finally got sober at age 27. Bierman, 30, a native of the affluent Long Island community of Roslyn, N.Y., also began using drugs at the age of 12 and found sobriety when he was 23. The two men, along with Snitzer’s wife, Aura Arslanian, also a recovering addict, met after undergoing drug rehabilitation in Florida.
After all three had been sober for approximately a year, they found employment in the addictions field. “We used to sit around and talk about how great it would be to go up North and start our own substance abuse treatment center there,” said Bierman. At the time, he said, it was only a dream.
After Arslanian became pregnant, she and Snitzer decided they wanted to raise their child closer to family. At first, they moved to New York City, where Arslanian grew up, but about a year later, they decided to relocate to Baltimore. With Bierman, they began to look into what Baltimore had to offer in terms of substance-abuse treatment.
“The first thing we noticed was that no one was providing the level of treatment we wanted to provide,” said Bierman. “We wanted to focus on long-term treatment centered on the underlying issues that caused the addiction. We also believe in providing treatment to the addict’s family as well as the addict.”
“And we saw kids being shipped [from Baltimore] down to Florida [for treatment],” added Snitzer. “It doesn’t have to be like that. Families don’t have to be separated.”
Soon, Snitzer and Arslanian succeeded in luring Bierman away from his job at Caron Renaissance, a rehabilitation center in Boca Raton, Fla. They found funding through a private investor who believed in their mission and opened MARC several months ago.
Snitzer and Bierman believe the treatment model they offer at MARC is unique to private addiction care in Maryland.
“A lot of treatment programs look at a heroin addict and they think heroin is the problem,” said Bierman. “If you separate the person from the drug, everything will be OK. But that’s not true. It’s the underlying pain the addict feels that is causing the problems. Ninety percent of our population is suffering from some sort of trauma, loss, physical or sexual abuse, adoption, divorce. These issues take time to address. There’s this 28-day model that’s caught on, but 28 days isn’t long enough. It’s just waiting for the sleeping giant to awake.”
“One thing we looked at in our research about Baltimore was that [programs] spent very little time focusing on the addict’s family,” noted Snitzer. “Addiction is a family disease. Typically, families misunderstand addiction. They’ll say, ‘Here’s my son or daughter; fix them, and we’ll pick them up in 28 days.’ People don’t realize the importance of reaching out to the family. They [the families] also feel alone and ashamed.”
MARC offers medically supervised detox, partial hospitalization programs for adolescents and adults, individual therapy, therapeutic groups such as relapse prevention and anger management, interventions and family counseling. Also provided are vocational counseling and an education and prevention program for DWI and DUI offenders.
“Our programs have a 90-day minimum, but it doesn’t always turn out that way,” said Snitzer. MARC’S outpatient treatment program for adolescents takes place three days a week from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and a similar program for adults operates four days a week from 9 a.m. to noon.
“We have an alumni engagement program. If you stay clean and sober for 90 days, you can attend group therapy for free as long as you want,” said Bierman. “Studies show that the longer an addict engages in treatment, the better they do.”
In addition to the treatment provided at MARC, Snitzer and Bierman also encourage attendance in 12-step programs like Alcoholic Anonymous.
“We owe our lives to AA,” said Snitzer. “All of us are involved in 12-step programs, and they are great in collaboration with what we do. We do treatment here, and AA is what addicts should do outside.”
Bierman said that he and Snitzer are trying to establish relationships with local high schools and colleges.
“A lot of drug use starts at those ages, and the schools aren’t really equipped to deal with it,” he explained. “We say, ‘Look, you don’t want to expel students [who are using drugs]. Let us treat them. We’ll work around their school schedules and make it possible for them to stay in school.’”
Snitzer pointed out that when someone well known such as Hoffman dies, it serves as a reminder that addiction doesn’t only happen to poor, indigent people from the inner cities.
“People like to think, ‘That’s not me.’ There is so much shame and stigma,” said Bierman. “We like to put a face on addiction. It’s a chronic progressive illness, not a moral failing. There are resources out there that can help.”
For more information about the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, which is located at 110 West Road in Towson, Suite 410, visit marylandaddictionrecovery.com.