“First and foremost, we need to change the way we are training our physicians” with Alex Hoffman and Chaya Weiner

First and foremost, we need to change the way we are training our physicians. Physicians need to be educated to identify, support and treat both mental health and substance use disorders. I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Hoffman. Alex has been a voice for addiction and recovery since his completion of Footprints to Recovery […]

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First and foremost, we need to change the way we are training our physicians. Physicians need to be educated to identify, support and treat both mental health and substance use disorders.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Hoffman. Alex has been a voice for addiction and recovery since his completion of Footprints to Recovery as one of the original five alumni of their Hamilton, NJ facility. He has appeared on Pittsburgh Channel 4 News, in Pittsburgh Business Times, and he has traveled to colleges, high schools, DEA and FBI offices spreading awareness of his addiction story. Since achieving sobriety, Alex has been able to live out old dreams, enjoying a short rapping career and performing at venues in New jersey and New York, also taking on small roles in both a Gillette commercial and Mac Miller Music video. Alex was also featured in ABC’s hidden camera TV show “What Would You Do?” at a laundromat in Matawan, NJ.

Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

I grew up in New Jersey right outside of Princeton. At the age of 13 I was introduced to marijuana and alcohol through some friends. I never felt like I fit in and I thought through using substances this was my ticket to fit in and be one of the cool kids. As a direct result of me using substances I was incarcerated in juvenile detention center three times, I was put in a juvenile shelter twice, and I was admitted into multiple juvenile inpatient drug treatment facilities. When I was 17 I dropped out of high school due to my substance abuse.

As I grew older my addiction worsened and I was introduced to heroin at the age of 18. I overdosed at 19 and two months after my 19th birthday I received two felony charges and spent time in the county jail.

At 21 years old I was faced with a difficult decision, go to prison for five years or go to another treatment facility to try and achieve sobriety. The treatment facility that I went to was called Footprints to Recovery and it completely changed my life.

I completed Footprints to Recovery and was offered a job a couple months after my completion. I have been with Footprints to Recovery since 2014 starting as a part-time behavioral tech, then full-time behavioral tech, then moved to an outreach specialist, and a Sober Living Managing Director.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?

I was always inspired by the counselors and staff of the treatment facilities I went to. I always looked at them like heroes and told myself I can see myself doing this type of work and helping others that are struggling. I always just had a feeling like this field of work was meant for me. I am able to share my story with my residents and can identify with their emotions and dilemmas in early recovery.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

There is no simple answer, but it is clear the epidemic was fueled by a multitude of factors including the over-prescription of narcotic medications by well-meaning physicians, incorrect information provided by pharmaceutical companies about the safety of such medications, lack of understanding of Medication Assisted Treatment, the collapse of available, affordable, effective mental health treatment; lack of understanding and support for Mental Health Parity and the staggering rates of severe untreated trauma, in all levels of society as well as in the military.

Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?

Through my work as a Sober Living House Manager, I’m making an impact by helping my residents get involved in recovery and assisting them in the utilization of necessary life skills to succeed in long-term sobriety. I teach my residents to take it one day at a time — that facing life on life’s terms can be very challenging and overwhelming, but it is also very rewarding. I tell my residents that using substances will not fix any life challenges, it simple just puts a band aid on a gashing wound. I really help them focus on the skills to succeed which is grocery shopping, budgeting finances, attending self-help groups and networking with others in recovery so they are not alone.

It is my hope that through teaching these skills to individuals in recovery, they can go out and help others that are struggling and then share and teach others what they learned. I truly feel the way we can make an impact on this epidemic is by helping those that are struggling, those in recovery being an example for others, and sharing the message that this works and is possible.

Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?

I knew an individual that struggled with achieving sobriety for years, he was in and out multiple treatment facilities. He was a young guy about 23 years old. He came into the housing program at first struggling. He was very defiant — didn’t want to follow the rules and didn’t want to be in the program. Every day I would always sit down and talk with him asking him how his day was, how he was doing, and would throw in a joke to get him to laugh so he would feel more comfortable and okay. He ended up staying and completing the program. Today he has over one year of sobriety and is the manager at a local recovery house. Now he helps other struggling individuals that come into his recovery house to achieve sobriety and passes on the skills and life lessons he learned with me to help others.

Can you share something about your work makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

Something about my work that makes me most proud is my team of coworkers. I work with a really diverse team and the way everyone works together is truly amazing. The way we can handle and overcome any obstacles together and the work we do together as one makes me truly proud.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?

First and foremost, we need to change the way we are training our physicians. Physicians need to be educated to identify, support and treat both mental health and substance use disorders.

We need to better understand the benefits of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and support those that are utilizing MAT to support their recovery.

We need to reduce barriers to treatment and fund social service initiatives.

Bust mostly we need to treat those in recovery with compassion and not judgement. We are facing a massive crisis. The solutions will need societal support on the level of previous campaigns for Heart Disease, HIV, and Cancer.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

Evidenced-based treatment — Support for treatment that is backed by empirical evidence needs to be available to everyone with a Substance Use Disorder — not just those that can afford it. States should incentivize evidence-based treatment programs and develop a system to identify those programs providing evidenced based treatment.

Better Provider Training and Prescriber Education — As a standard provider education should require Mental Health and addiction care and use of MAT.

Naloxone Access — Naloxone is a safe and effective means for reversing opioid overdose. Simplify the process for obtaining naloxone by expanding the number of those who can receive and distribute it. Strategies need to reach at risk populations, their support networks and the communities in which they live.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

What keeps me going is when I get to witness firsthand the success of the residents that complete the program and stay sober once they return to everyday life. When I get the phone calls from my former residents on how their life has changed for the better, the job they got that they never thought they would be able to be hired for, getting their family back into their lives when at one point they wanted nothing to do with them. This is my motivation, to see what I am doing matters and makes a difference.

Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?

I do hope one day that this leading cause of death can be defeated, but unfortunately, I don’t think we will be able to defeat it anytime soon. We’re faced with a massive challenge, that requires systematic and cultural change. All we can do in the meantime is spread the awareness to the schools, children, communities, and law enforcement to prepare them for what we are up against. It is also important for all of us in the addiction field to keep up the amazing work we’re doing. With everyone working together in this field and coming up with new ways to combat this epidemic we have a chance of raising the percentage to save lives.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is an intrinsic desire to achieve beyond expectations. If you believe in the work you do you can enrich the lives of others, build a better organization and create better relationships.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. I wish someone would have told me about how great of a feeling you get when you see someone who was struggling stay clean and live a life beyond their wildest dreams.

2. I wish someone would have told me about all the amazing individuals that I met in this process that I now call friends.

3. I wish someone would have told me that I would be in a position to make such a major impact on people’s lives.

4. I wish someone would have told me that this job was meant for you. That you really know how to speak, relate, and make the residents feel safe, comfortable, and welcomed.

5. I wish someone would have told me that even though there are times of sorrow, there are also times of happiness and laughter.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need to do a better job of educating our Nation. Education is the basis for everything. We need to start early with foundational skills both inside and outside of the classroom. It begins with prenatal health and early childhood development programs and extends from the classroom into the home. This type of ongoing education for all will drive individual and community health, productivity, well-being and resilience.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote would be “Short cuts make long days” -JRR Tolkien. The meaning that this has to me and how it is most relevant in my life is that there is no easy way in life. At work I must work hard and stay focused. In my life I must work on myself and treat every day as a new challenge. I cannot assume by not focusing on tasks on hand or rushing to get things will get me to where I need to be faster. I can achieve anything in my life if I am willing to stay humble, focused and put in the effort day in and day out.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Robert Downey Jr. His story to me is very inspiring, it shows me it doesn’t matter where you come from or what success you have — life hits you in all types of ways. I know a part of his story was struggling with addiction and he even went to prison, but he never gave up. When people and studios told him no he wasn’t good enough or we are not willing to give you another chance instead of giving up he kept fighting for what he wanted. He was put into a position of just giving up or fight back and he chose to fight back and to me that is truly amazing and inspires me in my life. Even when the tides have turned, and life isn’t going according to plan I need to keep pushing and fighting. I can never give up. It does get better once the storm settles.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/footprintstorecovery/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FootprintsRehab

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FootprintsRehab/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/footprints-to-recovery

Thank you so much for all of these great insights!

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