Learn how to self soothe during stressful times of the day. I personally like to take deep breaths.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jeffrey A. Zipper.
In response to the opioid epidemic plaguing our nation, Jeffrey A. Zipper, M.D. founded iRecovery in October of 2019. Dr. Zipper’s vision is to save as many lives as possible by transforming the delivery of healthcare services for millions of people suffering from alcohol and opioid use disorders; via an affordable nationwide telemedicine platform connecting addicted patients with our network of healthcare professionals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in Lawrence, NY on the south shore of Long Island. My father was an ear, nose and throat physician, who always encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine. I married my high school sweetheart, Beth and together, we have four grown children and two grandchildren. I then attended medical school at the University of Miami School of Medicine, graduating with Honors.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
Our organization iRecoveryUSA is a telemedical, medication assisted substance abuse treatment program that combines physician medical management services with the usual individual behavioral and group therapy programming. Our organization provides these services to historically underserved populations including Medicaid and Medicare recipients.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
After completing my advanced medical specialty training, I opened my first medical office in 1991, in Delray Beach, FL. I practiced Interventional Pain Management and over the years my practice grew into one of the largest Interventional Pain Management Companies, with facilities throughout the State of Florida. In 2004, I became concerned with the proliferation of “pain clinics” throughout the State of Florida. In fact, over a two-year period 20 new “pain clinics” opened in Delray Beach, FL. alone! Interestingly, I knew none of the physicians’ names and they weren’t located near our medical community and hospital. This was my first indication that something was awry in our specialty, hence the birth of “pill mills” in Florida.
During this time of tumult in the medical community, I was serving as President of the Florida Academy of Pain Medicine, and worked with the Florida Legislature in crafting what became known as the “pill mill” bill to put an end to these unregulated “cash pay only” criminal organizations. During discussions with legislators the medical community became concerned with the number of addicted patients that may be forced to start taking heroin, as a cheap alternative to feeding their addiction when these organizations were shuttered. Unfortunately, there was little legislative concern or resources directed toward that looming problem at that time. Within two years after passage of Florida’s “pill mill” bill, a Heroin epidemic ensued.
Being a Pain Management physician, I always had a keen interest in the differences between physical and psychological addiction to pain medications and why some patients developed the latter while others didn’t. Upon the sale of my company in 2012, I became more interested in the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD). I contemplated opening an in-patient residential drug treatment facility, however at that time the industry was in flux, corruption was ripe and patient brokering was rampant. In addition, relapse and overdose rates post abstinence based residential treatment were all too commonplace.
I began to realize that the current abstinence-based treatment model for SUD was very expensive, resource intensive, stigmatized and disruptive to family life obligations. Furthermore, outcomes for long term sobriety and recovery were poor. I proceeded to study about different treatment options for SUD and have come to believe that Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the most effective and logical solution to providing treatment for the physical components of addiction, such as drug cravings and withdrawals. Once the physical cravings and compulsion to use drugs are under control the psychological component of the disease can be addressed with the therapist while the patient is in a more normalized neuro-psychological state.
It wasn’t until President Trump declared a National Emergency for Opioid Abuse and congress passed the Support for Communities Act of 2018; that my vision of providing private, affordable, accessible, and destigmatized treatment for patients suffering with SUD could be realized. This bill provided Medicare and Medicaid funding for physician-based outpatient telehealth MAT and therapy services. So, I decided to move forward in building a national outpatient telemedical SUD medical practice dedicated to serving historically underserved populations in Medicaid and Medicare programs. The birth of iRecovery.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Patients suffering with SUD are always interesting. Every patient has a story as to what has led them down a path to self-destruction. However, I was surprised at just how much satisfaction I would personally derive from helping these desperate patients in their time of despair.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I have been blessed to have my physician father as a mentor throughout my life. He along with my wife and kids have served as my greatest supporters and cheerleaders. I also have the pleasure of working with two of my sons every day. Harrison Zipper, an attorney, who serves as our Chief Operating Officer and Jared Zipper, LCSW our Collaborative Care Coordinator.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait or condition that’s thought to be, or is, or puts you at, a societal disadvantage. Unfortunately, these negative attitudes and beliefs toward people with mental health conditions are too common. The stigma usually arises from lack of awareness, lack of knowledge, and negative perceptions and stereotyping of patients suffering with mental health disorders.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Individuals and society — must be more empathetic and less judgmental towards those with mental health disorders. They must begin to view mental health disorders as diseases in much the same realm as someone suffering with diabetes or heart disease.
Government — Work on continued access to mental health telemedicine services post pandemic. Continue to improve reimbursement models for outpatient physician based mental health services. Provide high speed internet access throughout the country, especially in rural areas.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Exercise for one hour every day before work.
- Laugh at least three times throughout the day.
- Take off completely from work at least one day a week.
- Learn how to self soothe during stressful times of the day. I personally like to take deep breaths.
- Watch one comedy movie per week
- Avoid watching the news more than one hour per day. Must admit I have difficulty with this one. LOL
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I spend a lot of time reading scientific journals and articles.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
How can our readers follow you online?
Come and visit our website: www.iRecoveryusa.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!