By KATHY CHANG
WOODBRIDGE — John Mincarelli’s road to recovery from drug addiction began with a Thanksgiving meal on his parent’s front porch.
At the time, he was at his lowest point in his addiction to drugs and arrived home with one goal in mind — steal money to continue to feed his habit as a heroin user.
“I loved my family, but I didn’t see them, I saw my mom’s [pocketbook],” said Mincarelli.
That Thanksgiving, Mincarelli said his mom did him a favor even though he did not realize it at the time — she locked him out of the house.
Today, Mincarelli is director of operations and outreach coordinator for Recovery Advocates of America Inc. (RAA) where he has been for the past seven years.
RAA is a nonprofit organization based in Hamilton that recognizes that addiction is a life-threatening disease that knows no boundaries and affects all walks of life.
“We’re good people with a very bad problem,” said Mincarelli of people with drug addictions. “It’s a compulsion, an obsession.”
Mincarelli said his mom would ask him, “Why can’t you just stop?”
His answer was always, “I don’t know how to, my self-centeredness, my compulsion hurts you because I don’t know any other way.”
The thought process of the “problem is over there” is not applicable anymore, he said.
“We are in your backyards robbing houses, which affects property values and taxes go up,” said Mincarelli adding the addiction cycle is devastating. “My neighbors weren’t my neighbors — they had items that I could steal and pawn.”
With 129 people dying from substance abuse and addiction each day across the country, the solution, Mincarelli said, is education and support.
Mincarelli was one of the speakers as Peter Pisar, a retired Middlesex County Sheriff’s officer and Republican candidate for sheriff, unveiled “The Pisar Plan” to address the county’s critical drug abuse crisis at AR-EX Pharmacy in the Fords section of Woodbridge on Aug. 30.
Pisar is facing incumbent Mildred Scott and David S. Pawski, who is with the Time for Transformation party, for the three-year term for county sheriff in the November election.
Brent Sonnek-Schmelz, a 6th District (Middlesex, Monmouth) congressional candidate, Joel Pomales, clinical outreach coordinator and director of advocacy and marketing for SOBA College Recovery Center in New Brunswick, Anil Datwani, head pharmacist at AR-EX Pharmacy, and Dr. Oguz Tok, of Allentown Medical Primary Care, Cream Ridge, were also on hand.
The tenets of “The Pisar Plan” include partnerships, coordination and cooperation with law enforcement agencies and local employment agencies/companies; an aggressive apprehension action within law enforcement agencies to address the criminal aspect of the problem; tweaking the treatment plan; drug addiction education for children, adults and the community; and shutting down the drug addict’s revolving door to nowhere.
Pisar said legislators and officials need to rethink the drug problem.
“Locking up those convicted of low-level drug crimes doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. “Many low-level drug offenders get caught in the revolving door of using, arrest, court, incarceration and they are back in the cycle all over again.”
Pomales, who is a person in long-term recovery from multiple substances, said they need to work on moving away from the longstanding stigma that drug addicts are bad people.
“Drug addiction is a public health issue,” he said adding that a big problem is the 30-day treatment plan, which can become a chronic revolving door.
Pomales also said more people need to get involved on a volunteer basis through their local Municipal Alliances or other organizations.
Tok said as a physician, [the medical community] recognizes the heroin and opioid problem as a big issue.
“The next step is the challenge for us,” he said.
Tok said the health-care provider in general can diagnose the condition of patients, but assisting patients after the fact is difficult when a patient does not qualify for insurance or has fallen on financial hardships.
He said teamwork is a key factor in working to solve the national problem of drug addiction.
RAA is holding its fourth annual Jersey’s Walk for Recover on Sept. 18 at Mercer County Park in West Windsor, Mercer County. For more information, visit www.recoveryadvocates.org.