The addiction scourge has overwhelmed millions of Americans and seriously taxed the healthcare and recovery industries. Rich Masterson has seen it—in society, in the clients he helps, even in his own family. His mother and uncle fell victim to alcohol, and two of his nephews have struggled with addiction. He knows how tough it is to conquer. “The opioid crisis is the worst national crisis the United States has seen since AIDS,” he says.
As the founder of BrainSpark Health, Masterson hopes he can provide that little something extra—another weapon capable of helping addicts fight back. The first addiction treatment center of its kind on the East Coast, his Plymouth Meeting clinic seeks to accelerate and improve the detoxification process. Depending on their specific needs, patients undergo eight to 12 days of intense intravenous, non-narcotic NAD IV treatments to help control the part of the brain that desires alcohol or drugs. The aim is to limit cravings so people can start on the road to recovery. “I didn’t believe it until I saw it,” says Masterson, who founded BrainSpark in early 2018. “Patients come in who may have even used that same day. By day four, the lights have come on. By day five, their appetite comes back. By day six, they’re eating like they’re going to the chair. The transformation occurs before your eyes.”
Short for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, NAD is a metabolic co-enzyme that works to restructure, repair and remodel the body’s cells. Drug and alcohol abuse prompts the brain to reorganize on a cellular level, a neuroadaptation process that’s responsible for addiction-related brain damage and depletion of neurotransmitters. Said to replenish drained enzymes and target brain restoration, NAD IV therapy was first used in South Africa almost 60 years ago. Though it’s known to help minimize withdrawal symptoms, it wasn’t designed with drug rehab in mind. Any description of its benefits focuses more on cognitive improvement, the stimulation of serotonin production, and its positive impact on digestion and energy levels.
In the U.S., NAD therapy debuted in 2001 at a treatment center in Louisiana, though it hasn’t been widely available—especially for detox. “I thought conventional treatment providers would throw rocks at us, but we’ve been embraced by behavioral therapists and recovery specialists,” says Masterson. “They’re tired of the revolving door approach.”
Masterson is not a medical professional. He’s an entrepreneur and philanthropist who made his fortune in Internet consulting and data-based advertising programs. “I can’t sing or act. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler,” Masterson says. “For me, entrepreneuring and creating companies are my creative outlets. Some of the skills you develop as an entrepreneur are interchangeable, no matter what business sector you’re in.”
Masterson was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up in New Jersey, graduating from James Madison University in Virginia with a degree in marketing and management. He worked his way through college bartending, fishmongering and selling Christmas trees. “A little bit of everything,” he says.
His entrepreneurial instincts come naturally. His brother started a swimming pool business more than 40 years ago, and the two of them own a car wash. Masterson was transferred from Tulsa, Okla., to Philadelphia while working for Reynolds Metals Company. Always eager to strike out on his own, he launched Radio Realty, an advertising agency that catered to real estate firms.
Masterson’s visit from the “wealth fairy” came in the late ’90s. Inspired by a demo of Prodigy, the early Internet service, he started U.S. Interactive, taking the online consulting firm public in 1999. When he left, U.S. Interactive employed 800 people and was worth $1.2 billion.
Over the past 20 years, Masterson has been involved in philanthropy through Giving Capital, donating more than $650 million. Beginning in 2007, he was the co-founder and chairman of Audience Partners, an Internet advertising firm he started with Jeff Dittus. It began as a mechanism to help Masterson’s congressional campaign, which never materialized. It developed into a method of targeting customers with information and offers. In 2017, Masterson and Dittus sold Audience Partners to Altice USA, and Masterson remains the chief digital strategist for Altice. “Rich is very caring and compassionate,” says Dittus. “He’s done a lot of things in business that have a philanthropic component that isn’t just about making money. In today’s climate, that’s rare.”
And then there’s BrainSpark. “We’re transforming and saving people’s lives,” says Masterson’s BrainSpark partner, Marc Levine, whose family also has an addiction history.
After hearing about NAD IV therapy, Masterson dispatched Plymouth Meeting-based oral surgeon Dr. Franco Picofazzi to California to observe the process and report on its effectiveness. “Opioid withdrawal is the worst withdrawal you can go through,” Masterson says. “It brings on the worst flu-like symptoms you’ve ever had. You have fluids coming out of everywhere; your skin is crawling.” At BrainSpark, the misery of withdrawal is judged on a scale from zero to 60. “We’ve never had a patient go beyond 15,” Masterson claims. “The worst thing most people report is mild gastro-intestinal discomfort.”
Even so, Levine notes that there’s still plenty of work to be done after detox. But as a first step, it’s produced some exciting results. “The things we’ve seen are nothing short of miraculous,” says Levine.
NAD IV therapy is not an inexpensive proposition. Masterson reports that each treatment costs $1,000 and isn’t covered by health insurance. He’s been to Harrisburg to present its benefits to legislators and healthcare professionals, and he’s hopeful that there will be some coverage in the near future.
It’s an unconventional approach that’s not FDA approved, which explains why the insurance industry has been slow to embrace it. But Masterson believes in BrainSpark’s ability to help addicts. “It at least gives the patient a fighting chance,” he says. “The primary benefit is to heal some of the damage to the body and prepare the person for the tough work to come.”