For the majority of his life, Michael Silberman has called Owings Mills his home. But for more than a decade he lived in Florida, and didn’t arrive there on a winning streak.
Beginning in his teens, Silberman struggled with addiction. After failing to get clean in Maryland, Silberman moved to a drug treatment facility in Florida, where his struggles continued. After finally getting clean in 2005, Silberman began working in the health insurance field, later turning his own experiences with drug addiction into an opportunity to help thousands facing the same affliction.
Along with two business partners, Silberman founded Amatus Health, an umbrella company that operates eight treatment facility centers in Maryland, Florida, Georgia and Ohio and will soon open its ninth location in New Hampshire. He celebrates 13 years clean on July 28.
How did you get involved with substance abuse treatment?
When I was about four years clean I started my first business in health insurance. And through that we opened up an agency and parlayed that into another business that was based around prescription assistance. I saw a lot of people get into the treatment and substance abuse field. Being someone in recovery, it was very attractive to me to be able to work and earn a living but at the same time help other people and do things I’m passionate about.
I got involved with the first treatment facility almost five years ago. The second facility in Florida about two years later, then about two years later our first facility in Maryland, then Ohio, and thus, Amatus Health was started.
What separates Amatus Health from other treatment facilities?
We do practice a 12-step model and it is abstinence-based. We don’t prescribe methadone or suboxone or any other narcotics. We try to get people clean and sober and teach them to live again.
So the attention is towards life skills and building back the abilities to do things that we take for granted — things like going grocery shopping, doing laundry, how to write a resume, basic life skills that we lost in addiction. But I think more than anything, it’s the staff. It’s the culture that’s built on the facility level that allowed us to give that individualized attention that separates us from other treatment centers.
How does your Jewish upbringing come into this work?
There is a stigma and a taboo with addiction. I’m not sure if it is more stigmatized in the Jewish community necessarily, but it is certainly brushed under the rug. My parents told their friends and family for the first two years that I was in Florida that I was in school, but I was there for treatment.
As I started to recover and get better it was important to me to try to destigmatize addiction and recovery because it is starting to hit a lot of families and a lot in the Jewish community as well. It was something important to me, being a Jew, and looking at my community and seeing the devastation addiction causes. The more we talk about it in our community the more we can help families who have children that are struggling with this.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about addiction?
I think at the end of the day people judge an addict and look at them simply as an addict. But take my story as an example: I was raised in an upper-middle class family. I had everything I needed, I was never abused, my parents are not alcoholics or addicts themselves, I went to good schools. I was literally given every opportunity to go to college and live a life that a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to do. But regardless of my upbringing I became an intravenous heroin user by the age of 18.
And there is no reason for that other than that I believe addiction truly is a disease and that disease can manifest itself in many different ways. The idea of looking at someone who’s a junkie or an addict as a low/bottom person who comes from a horrible situation is not true.
What else are you passionate about?
My daughter, my wife and my family. I have a second daughter on the way. She is due on July 1. I collect unique antique toys, action figures and old Universal monster stuff. Music. I used to play music in the community. But mostly seeing family and friends.