PLYMOUTH MEETING — At 25, Alex P. was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

“I was always in pain; they gave me pain meds to deal with it,” the 32-year-old New Jersey resident said. “Until 31, I pretty much [took opioids] all the time.

As he built a business, the opioids “masked the pain,” he said. “Instead of eating healthy and avoiding what I was scared of, I was taking the whole prescription and buying more.”

He tried to quit several times, he said, but “when I was off them, I felt horrible and was constantly searching for them and thinking what would happen if my wife or father found out. Nothing took away the anxiety."

Listening to a podcast one day about NAD in general from a health standpoint, he said, it mentioned how it can be used for addiction.

After some research, he found BrainSpark, an outpatient holistic addiction healing and wellness center in Plymouth Meeting that claims it can help jumpstart the addiction withdrawal process with IV NAD (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) therapy.

“I really didn’t have a choice,” Alex said, noting a 30-to-90-day stay at a treatment center “would ruin my business, or I could keep taking pills and going to work and eventually I’d be dead or would lose everything.”

“Alcohol and drugs are chemicals — anytime you use them it alters the brain,” said Ciara Lynch Levine, clinical director of BrainSpark Health. Continued use “gradually decreases the brain cells’ natural ability to send or receive signals, effectively damaging the neurotransmitters.”

“Traditional detox programs do not offer treatment to repair the brain other than abstinence and time,” she said. “NAD, a nutraceutical comprising amino acids and proteins, repairs the damaged neurotransmitters.”

Withdrawal symptoms — feelings of emptiness, insomnia, depression, anxiety, cravings, pain, brain fog and fatigue — typically last six to 18 months and are all risk factors in relapse, Ciara said.

While the detox therapy is not a cure for addiction, it shortens the withdrawal process by healing the brain and reducing cravings, she said.

An advanced practice psychiatric nurse, Ciara said she was not immediately convinced when her husband, Marc Levine, chief operating officer and a co-founder of BrainSpark Health, opened the center about 18 months ago.

“I’ve been in the mental health field for 22 years; I taught nursing for years,” she said. “I was skeptical — why hadn’t I heard of this.”

After seeing the results, she said, she came on as the clinical director this year, working one-on-one with patients to direct their therapy.

Other clinics in the United States have been using the therapy for 18 to 20 years and it has been in use longer in Australia and South Africa, Marc said. BrainSpark Health is the only center offering IV NAD therapy on the East Coast, he said.

“The most common response [to addiction] is to go to a 12-step meeting,” Ciara said. “If that works, great; it doesn’t work for all.”

Though not evidence-based, “the detox and healing component of IV NAD therapy, in addition to ongoing supportive rehabilitation, have anecdotally increased patients’ rates of long-term sobriety,” she said.

Depletion of NAD, which occurs naturally in cells, is caused mainly by aging, substance abuse disorder and stress, she said.

“Exercise, nutrition and stress reduction allow the body to use NAD,” Ciara said. Research at Harvard University is “looking at NAD for aging to help protect the brain.”

Concussion also affects NAD levels, she said.

IV NAD therapy comprises an infusion for 6 to 8 hours daily for 10 consecutive days.

The NAD “comes from a licensed compounding pharmacy,” Ciara said, noting, “nutraceuticals have been deemed non-harmful rather than FDA approved.”

Alex began treatment May 1, ending May 10.

“I was scared out of my mind the whole time I was there,” he said. “I was afraid I could be in excruciating pain, but I gave it a shot. It’s probably the best thing I ever did.

“I think mentally, it puts you in a better position,” he said.

“I was afraid after I left, I would go back to feeling shitty again,” Alex said. “Ciara sat down with me and came up with a plan. I cut out gluten and went on a keto diet and within a week of being home inflammation [from an arthritis flare-up] went away. I haven’t had a flare-up since.

“I go to the gym every day and eat a strict diet. My wife can’t believe the change in me.”

Ciara also set him up with a local therapist he sees weekly, he said.

“Now I have the tools and mental capacity to tell myself, that [taking an opioid] would be stupid; I would lose everything. I’m able to think that way because of the treatment.

“I don’t know where I’d be now, if not for them; they still call me to see how I’m doing.”

“What the illness is – their brain is changed, they can’t think clearly,” Ciara said. “NAD can fix that. Now they can think about having to repair relationships. NAD gives them a much better start.

“It takes away craving, provides significant brain cell repair,” she said. “Patients say the world is brighter, they are calm, food tastes better, stress reduced, they can think more clearly. It’s a huge advantage when they go to deal with the why — how they got there.”

Following treatment, she works with patients to steer them to the next step.

For some it’s a 12-steps program, for others it’s counseling, she said.

The 10-day treatmen, whicht costs $9,000, is not covered by insurance, Marc said. “It’s considered an out-of-network treatment. We know it’s expensive, we offer financial plans.

“The center has treated more than 900 since its inception,” he said.

“Most find us online,” Marc said. “We’re starting to see referrals from patients, medical professionals.

“I think we have a viable option, but a lot don’t know about it.”

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