Board of Directors

Alexis Pleus, Founder of Truth Pharm, Executive Director, Board Ex Officio Chair

 Alexis Founded Truth Pharm in February 2015. Truth Pharm was incorporated and the 501c3 nonprofit status was obtained in January 2016.

Alexis is a licensed professional engineer with over 25 years of experience in the design and construction industry and was an adjunct professor at SUNY Broome in the Civil Engineering Technology program. She developed and provided in-house corporate education at each of her employers and has also taught for the Corporate Education and Continuing Education Program through SUNY Broome at local corporations such as Lockheed and Link.

In August of 2014, Alexis lost her oldest son, Jeff, to a heroin overdose. Though sympathetic and compassionate to her son while he battled his substance use disorder, Alexis learned only after his death that the dogma as to how to respond to the disease of heroin/opioid addiction that was taught to her while he was alive, was false. Determined to spare other parents or individuals from facing the same discrimination she faced and desire to provide all of those touched by addiction with accurate information, Alexis founded Truth Pharm with a primary focus on raising awareness, reducing stigma and providing education on substance use disorder, with particular emphasis on the opioid/heroin epidemic.

Alexis is a dynamo who has accomplished more in one year since founding Truth Pharm than most fully staffed organizations fighting this Epidemic could hope to accomplish in a decade. For an exhaustive list of her achievements please click here.

Some highlights of Alexis’ accomplishments are:

  • She assisted SAMHSA in developing tools for families who have lost loved ones due to substance use related issues.
  • She was a Keynote Speaker for Genesee County Victims Assistance week in 2016, she serves on the National Action Committee for “Facing Addiction” assisting in developing their advocacy and action agenda and at the New York State Criminal Justice Educators conference in February 2017.
  • She was a panel speaker at Greene High School, Bainbridge High School, Oxford High School, Sherburne-Earlville High School and Walton High School.
  • She published an article in The Fix in February 2016.
  • She had an article about her and her son published in The Guardian in April 2016 (photo above by Chris Arnade).
  • She provides corporate training on substance use and substance use disorder.
  • She served on a review board of a marketing campaign for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to raise awareness regarding the opioid epidemic.

Heather Dunshee, Board Member

Heather taught Physics at Sherburne-Earlville High School for 30 years before her recent retirement. She has been a Board member of several non-profit organizations including the Earlville Free Library, Sherburne Co-op Nursery School and Earlville Opera House. Currently she is involved with SE (Sherburne-Earlville) “Fighting Back,” an addiction awareness group that targets the Sherburne-Earlville school district. “Fighting Back” is a subsidiary of Truth Pharm and believes that our opioid problem needs to be addressed by our community as a whole.  It works to reduce the associated stigma and provide support for those affected by SUD.  The group has held community forums, school forums, community NARCAN trainings and runs a support group. “Fighting Back” is currently working with the Chenango County sheriff and local police departments to try to work towards a county-wide PAARI program.

Amy S. Balchunas Cruz, Board Member

Amy has spent the last 27 years developing her stellar reputation in the beauty industry. She has owned her own salon and has managed a prosperous day spa. She also became an educator for a well-known nail supply company and through continuous education, spent many years fine tuning her skills as a nail technician.

Addiction plagued Amy’s family for many years, and last year she decided to take part in the solution and looked to join an organization with her same values and goals. Early in 2016 she joined forces with Truth Pharm and by mid-year accepted Truth Pharm’s nomination to sit on the board.  She is dedicated to raising awareness and breaking the stigma associated with substance use disorder. She is proud to have achieved so much in this last year, including being a single mother and grandmother raising her granddaughter.

She has continued her education in Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health disorders. She has taken CCR’s Recovery Coach Training, HEP C awareness training, Integrative Harm Reduction Therapy Introductory course with Dr. Andrew Tatarsky and Motivational Interviewing and Motivational Interviewing for Group Therapy.

Barbara Veit, Board Member, West Coast Truth Pharm Director

Barbara earned her BA in French Linguistics and Literature from the University of California at Santa Barbara and her MS degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of California at San Diego before going on to conduct laboratory research at the University of California at San Francisco. In 1993 she decided to dedicate herself full-time to raising her children. Barbara is now using her extensive background in research to consolidate the findings on legitimate (research-based) studies made on the facts around heroin addiction, treatment, and recovery so that awareness can be raised and proper treatments (those that yield the highest rates of recovery) can be implemented.

Theresa Baxter MS FNP-C in Acute Pain Service, Board Member

Theresa is honored to be a Board Member for Truth Pharm. She’s always had an interest for helping families with addiction, beginning her education with an Associates in Human Services, continuing on to Masters degree, Nurse Practitioner from SUNY Upstate Medical University. She currently works in a Syracuse hospital in pain management- acute and chronic.  She came to realize that many of the her patients also have Substance Use Disorder, so she decided to educate herself on this vulnerable population.
Her areas of interest are changing policy and practice to stop the opioid epidemic, alternative and non-pharmacologic pain management, a holistic approach to Health and Wellness, and helping empower others.
She speaks with authority on this, as she raised her 3 children alone while supporting them and completing her education. She, like most others, has been personally affected by addiction and shares Alexis’s passion to raise awareness and reduce stigma.
She became especially interested in Addiction work when it became evident through her practice that people needed a lot more help than was being offered or provided. People were dying, and the stigma was increasing. She’s begun giving lectures to her colleagues on Pain Management and Opioid Tolerance, to include addiction prevention, care and treatment.

Sara Asif Spencer, Pharm D, MS, Board Member

Sara A. Spencer is originally from West Nyack, NY, and received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Her interest in individualized patient care and improving therapeutic outcomes led her to pursue a Master of Science in Pharmacy with a concentration in Medication Therapy Management (MTM) from University of Florida. She went on to complete an accredited PGY1 Managed Care Pharmacy residency at the Capital District Physicians Health Plan, in Albany, NY.

Spencer has educated and trained pharmacists on naloxone dispensing protocols in the retail setting. As a Board Member of Truth Pharm, she hopes to continue to educate healthcare providers and raise awareness in the community about substance use disorders and treatment options.

Mary Maruscak, MPA, Board President

Mary hails from the rural Finger Lakes of New York, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a special focus on children and families from Keuka College. She relocated to the Binghamton area to pursue her Master of Public Administration in 2009, with a concentration in non-profit administration. Mary’s professional interests include health education, epidemiology, and social determinants of health and their relationship to health outcomes and quality of life, particularly in rural communities.

After working for many years in direct care and case management with individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health diagnoses, Mary‘s career took a new direction and she joined Rural Health Network of South Central New York’s staff in 2013 as the Resource Development Director, and then moved into the role of Population Health Coordinator for Tioga County in 2015. She is enjoying this new area of focus so much that she began pursuing a Certificate in Public Health in August, 2016.

Now living in Apalachin, Mary is dedicated to the reduction of stigma on behavioral health issues, including that of addiction and substance use, and is honored by the opportunity to continue this work with Truth Pharm.

Jake Buckland, Attorney, Board Member

Jake Buckland is a Broome County native and an associate with the law firm of Levene Gouldin & Thompson, LLP, where he practices commercial litigation, employment law, and criminal defense. Jake received his B.A. from SUNY Oswego (Class of 2013) and his J.D. from Penn State Law (Class of 2016).

Now living in Endicott, Jake recognizes the profound impact that opioid addiction has wreaked on Broome County. Jake also sees the problems with and failings of the criminal justice system in dealing with addicted individuals, and is committed to promoting policy changes that will make a lasting impact toward ending the epidemic.