Tucked away on the top floor of a suite of offices on Fay Avenue, you'll find a place where people go to face their fears, their shame, and their hopelessness to get help. The La Jolla Healing Center opened in 2006 and offers a holistic approach to treating addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Its CEO and founder, Kamran Zafar, Ph.D. has walked the lonely and painful road of addiction — not only as an addict himself, but as the father of an addict son who overdosed on drugs at age 24. It's the exact age that Kamran himself checked into a hospital before he feared he would do the same thing.
Zafar grew up in Iran and recalls: "I came from a culture where opiates were as common as marijuana is here. Before I came here, I was dependent on opioids. When the revolution happened in Iran, I lost my parents and I was felt so hopeless that I really wanted to quit, to throw in the towel. A friend came to me and said, 'You always have a choice. Why don't you try to clean up first and see if you can change your life before you do something like that?' So he helped me to go to the hospital (here in San Diego)."
Kamran went on to pursue a highly successful 24-year career as the managing director of an $180 billion financial services firm. He uses many of the same techniques to treat addicts today, as he did to help employees during his financial career. "My job was to recruit agents and really try to help them become successful. In order for me to do that, I had to become a psychologist. I had to make sure that it's not just the business, it's the family life, too. So there was a lot of babysitting, a lot of advising, a lot of training to make people successful."
Kamran continued the holistic approach to helping others at La Jolla Healing Center, explaining: "Human connection works everywhere. How you connect and how you listen to someone to see what's really going on — what is it that people are suffering from — to help them find a solution, not just advise them or tell them what the solution is."
He points out that most patients come through the door as heroin addicts after opioid addiction. The majority are 20 to 40 years old. Most of them started using drugs as teenagers. "They usually find the pills at school or in their parents' medicine cabinet," he states. "But the pills are very expensive. Oxycodone is $40 or $50 per pill. But heroin is very cheap. So it gets to the point that they have no choice because they don't have the money. They go use heroin.
"Kids start using it (the drug or alcohol), then they start abusing it. Now, they've become dependent and they can't help it anymore. If they don't take it, they're suffering; they're in pain. It's not voluntary anymore. They have to have it. Otherwise, they cannot survive. Their mind is consumed with, 'when am I going to get my next dose?' At that time, the addiction is classified as a disease. It's a disease of the brain."
At the Healing Center, addicts first stop their use, or taper off the drug or alcohol with other medication. The team adds on nutrition, yoga, exercise, art therapy, journaling and mindfulness. Educating family members is also key, and the program offers 3-hour sessions twice a week for sharing experiences and expectations moving forward. Group sessions are never more than five people with three counselors, Kamran says, so each person gets intensive, individual attention. One-on-one counseling is also available if needed.
Kamran measures the Healing Center's success one patient at a time: "Even if one person gets the message and changes their life and becomes free from drugs and alcohol, that is where I get the most satisfaction. By doing that, I'm giving back. The whole process is to save one life at a time. And that's what my passion is."
The cost of an eight-week outpatient program is $19,000, and can sometimes be covered by insurance, but not in all cases. For more information, go to lajollahealingcenter.com
• La Jolla Healing Center, 7590 Fay Ave., Suite 401, La Jolla. (858) 454-4357.
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