Anthony Fasano’s life was about to change that day a relative failed to show for a high school game he was supposed to coach. Rather than realize the personal, long-term ramifications of what was unfolding, all Fasano cared about over the next couple of days was finding his relative and sorting out whatever was wrong.
Drugs, that’s what was wrong. Fasano, like many, knew little about addiction. He makes his living playing professional football — he just re-signed to play tight end for the Dolphins — and if there’s one thing that carried him this far, it’s strength.
“It’s not a disease, it’s a weakness or a coping mechanism that they need to kick” — that was Fasano’s view of drug addiction.
He knows plenty more now. After seeing his relative overcome addiction, Fasano realized it was what he wanted to devote his post-football life to. So thanks to the financial wherewithal that comes with a long-time NFL career, Fasano launched Next Chapter, an addiction and trauma treatment center in Delray Beach, in December 2015.
Fasano is neither a doctor nor a therapist — he leaves that to his CEO and clinical director, Abe Antine — but Fasano makes business decisions for the center in addition to providing capital.
The center is equipped to treat up to 18 patients at a time, and one way or another, most become aware of who’s in charge of Next Chapter and what this 6-foot-4, 255-pound man does on fall Sunday afternoons.
“I think they all know pretty much before they meet me,” Fasano said, relaxing on a couch in Antine’s office one afternoon. “But it’s cool, getting some questions. And then once you get to know them, they get real comfortable and they’re talking about fantasy (football) and who’s going to win this game, who’s going to win that game.”
Fasano visits the office about three times a week during the offseason and acknowledged that returning to the Dolphins makes it easier to deal with logistics after a four-year hiatus to play in Kansas City and Tennessee. As if to ward off critics who might question his devotion to the Dolphins at age 32, he said once practices begin, “I am really going to try to put 100 percent of my attention into the season and try to remove myself from work here. I feel I can do that easily. I have a trusted team.”
Among the many lessons Fasano has learned along the way is one about trust, which is in short supply in the addiction-center business in South Florida because of operators taking advantage of patients and insurance companies, he said.
“I know there’s kind of the snakes in every industry, but there seems to be a lot more in this industry and it’s almost like the wild, wild west of healthcare,” he said. “I do think there’s a little help coming, but the lack of regulation and degree of people — even when it comes to people’s lives in jeopardy because of their greed … ”
Fasano said he usually doesn’t discuss Next Chapter with teammates.
“I stay pretty quiet about what I do outside of football while I’m in the locker room,” he said. “I don’t know — I just don’t want to mix too many things with the locker room. But the guys I have talked to about it are really receptive and feel that it’s really cool that I not only try to set myself up to stay busy when football is done, but also I try to help people at the same time.”
On the latter point, Antine is blunt: “When I got to know him well I was pleasantly surprised. He’s not kind of like the stereotypical, you know, football player that may be self-serving. He gives a (expletive) about others. His heart is in the right place.
“He doesn’t have to call every new employee we hire, from a residential tech to a therapist, but it’s important to him that he meets with the staff, he meets with the clients.”
It goes back to his initial eye-opening incident with his relative. Fasano said a manhunt ensued until the relative came forward and admitted, “I can’t do this to my family or myself anymore.” Until then, no one knew he had an addiction.
The relative received treatment in Daytona Beach. Although Fasano was playing for the Chiefs at the time, he maintained his offseason home in Fort Lauderdale and would have the relative down for dinner on weekends. After successfully receiving treatment, the relative began working for his treatment program and doing speaking engagements. As Fasano tracked his recovery, the relative has been sober for three years, he became convinced that “we can do this a lot better than it’s being done right now down here.”
He met Antine, who was based in Delray Beach, and Next Chapter was formed. Fasano said Next Chapter assigns a therapist to each patient and a different therapist to the patient’s family to coach them through the process.
“Their eyes really opened up to, ‘God, I think I’m helping my loved one, but I’m actually hurting him so much,’ ” Fasano said. “And they make a 180 to make amends and change the way they interact with their family member.”
Fasano estimated that 90 percent of Next Chapter’s patients come from outside Florida. Members of an outreach team from around the country meet with private practice therapists, who then refer clients to Next Chapter. Antine said the center’s clients “come strictly from referrals from relationships with therapists and other addiction, trauma and mental health professionals across the country.” That’s how Next Chapter avoids “patient brokering,” Antine said, adding, “We won’t take clients that many facilities will take.” The focus, Fasano and Antine say, is on whatever trauma led patients to the issues they have. Some patients are not substance abusers but rather are coping with traumatic events in their life.
The operation is expanding, soon to move a couple of miles to Atlantic Avenue. A program to treat women and mental-health patients may be launched, Antine said.
Since Next Chapter is relatively new, Fasano figures it’s premature to say what its success rate is, only that they’re “really happy” with results and testimonials from patients.
The other day, the office called for a food delivery, which came with a pleasant surprise: The delivery man was once a patient. The man was a veteran who had PTSD and was a substance abuser.
“That’s a huge step,” Fasano said. “He’s clean. He has a sponsor. He has a job. He’s responsible. … Just looked like a different person from the day he came here.”
Next Chapter’s owner is a different person, too, when it comes to knowledge of the problem.
“I’m ashamed to say that I was ignorant to the addiction world,” Fasano said. “ … I’m more of a strong-willed person. I can’t relate to that. But after hearing these stories and reading the literature behind it, I’ve made a 180 and do believe it’s a disease and needs to be treated just like a disease from the neck down would be treated.”