Addiction: Coming Out of the Shadows

January 11, 2016


Two Palisadians who came out of the shadow of addiction have now dedicated their lives to helping others. For their efforts and the development of a new outpatient program, Andy Besser and Robert Landes will be honored at the 24th Annual Beit T’Shuvah gala on January 24 at the Century Plaza.

The mission of Beit T’Shuvah, which is located across from Helms Bakery in Culver City, is helping “souls recover from addiction and learning how to properly heal. The faith-based model integrates spirituality, psychotherapy, Jewish teachings, the 12 Steps and creative arts.”

About 120 people are receiving treatment at the Beit T’Shuvah facility, and are allowed to remain as long as they need help: an average stay is six months to a year.

“The idea is not to ‘graduate’ people,” said Besser, who worked 25 years as a civil litigation attorney before coming to Beit T’Shuvah. “This is about building community.”

“More than 10,000 people have been helped,” said Landes, a businessman, who noted that about 40 percent of those receiving treatment are not Jewish.

“No one is turned away because of financial need, 70 percent of our clients are on scholarship,” Landes said. The cost of the outpatient program is $3,500 a month, which is cheap by treatment standards. “You can pay $140,000 a month for a world-class recovery, but you also get a world-class debt.” When a person enters the facility, he or she is assigned an addiction counselor, a spiritual counselor and a therapist—and an individualized program is developed. “A person is challenged to recover their passion and discover their purpose,” Besser said. “They learn they don’t need to fill up ‘space’ with drugs.”

In addition to therapy rooms, a vocational and career center and a recording studio, there is also a community room and dining room.

Landes and Besser said the center has a good relationship with the courts, so that many people with an addiction problem come there for treatment instead of jail.

Besser noted that 60 Minutes (on December 13) featured Michael Botticelli, director of the National Drug Control Policy, who said we need to look at addiction differently: that it is a brain disease rather than a moral failing, that addiction doesn’t have anything to do with will power, but rather should be viewed as a disease.

“We need to come out of the shadows and look at the disease model,” Landes said. “One in three families will be touched by addiction,” Besser said. “One hundred twenty people are dying every day from overdoses, which is more than gunshots and car accidents.”

Besser talked about how he had a substance abuse problem earlier in his life. After retiring from the legal field, he was seeking a new direction. “It was mind boggling the number of kids with substance abuse issues and I decided I wanted to get involved as a counselor.”

He attended UCLA in 2011 and received an addiction counselor certification, which required 300 hours of experience and passing a state certification examination. “I did my hours here and fell in love with this place,” Besser said.

In like fashion, Landes, an executive vice president at L.A. Gear, was featured in an April 1995 L.A. Times business story. The following month he was in rehab in Minnesota.

He credits his late wife, Wendy Landes, with breaking the chain of addiction in his family. She said, “I’m not willing to hide any more.”

“You treat it when you bring it out of the shadows,” Besser said.

When they share their story with others, people afterwards seek them out and “They whisper, ‘Can you help?’”

“Why do they whisper?” Landes asks.

The men point to an increasing problem with heroin in youth. According to Botticelli (director of National Drug Control Policy), “We know one of the drivers of heroin has been the misuse of pain medication. Many pain drugs are opioids like heroin and the number of opioid prescriptions has risen from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million today.”

“Most of the young people coming in today are addicted to heroin,” Besser said. Heroin is as cheap as $5 or $10—less than prescription pain killers.

He also warns about medical marijuana. “A group of kids are addicted to it. This marijuana was developed for those with cancer and it [the strength] has no relation to what many of today’s adults may have used.”

The two men are clear that those with substance-abuse problems should be treated with a medical model, rather than as a will-power issue.

“We are not here to legislate or judge, we’re here to provide a solution that includes the family,” Besser said.

“We’re bringing it out of the shadows so that people are able to ask for help,” said Landes, who started working 300 hours towards his counseling certification in 2014.

The two men have created a 90-day out- patient program, dubbed IOP (intensive outpatient program), that allows people who may have an addictive type disease to gain support, while continuing to work. It is specifically for those people whose personal and professional obligations don’t allow inpatient treatment. The program operates 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and includes grief work, Steps study, meditation and a support community.

Almost from the moment the men came up with the model, funding fell into place through the Leonard Lipman Charitable Fund and the Alan B. Slifka Foundation, which will support the program for three years. The irony for me is that Slifka is one of the partners of the Wendy Walk,” Landes said, noting the Walk was established by his three children, Ali, Matt, and Jacie, to support his late wife with her battle against liposarcoma (a rare cancer of the connective tissues). The two men emphasize that the disease of addiction is also a disease of ego and pride and that people are too embarrassed to ask for help: but that it is an equal opportunity destroyer. Both are satisfied with their new path.“It’s about an obligation to give back,” Landes said.

Besser added he thinks of Winston Churchill’s statement: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

To attend the Gala and/or contribute to Beit T’Shuvah, please visit:

For information on the Outpatient Program, visit or call (310) 280-3693

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