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The Mencarini Project
©Reprinted Courtesy of Silicon Reports
Dino Ronald Mencarini of Los Altos points out that he is not the winemaker Dino Mencarini of Abundance Vineyards in Lodi—nor even related to him. The question is often asked because this Dino Mencarini is founder of the county's DUI Detoxification Project.

Mencarini notes that although the last drink he took was red wine, that occasion occurred on September 16, 1983. It was not a happy one. Afterward Mencarini vowed abstinence and set about to memorialize his experience by writing a screenplay titled “City of a Thousand Lloyds.”

“It’s about a middle-aged Pittsburgh steel worker named Lloyd Burris who has just been laid off,” Mencarini said. “I was not middle-aged at the time, but I felt that way. In the opening scene, Lloyd wakes up on the linoleum floor of a fleabag motel beside two empty gallon bottles of vin rose and a pile of Pall Mall butts.”

But why 1,000 Lloyds? Mencarini laughs. “A bunch of us had been laid off,” he said. “I liked the name Lloyd because it suited my mood. Every Lloyd I knew had a sagging face with bags under his eyes. It just seemed all Lloyds were born at 50. I can’t imagine saying to a toddler, “Yo Lloyd!”

Mencarini's screenplay went nowhere. He would work various part-time jobs while earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1989 from West Chester University in West Chester, Penn. This coupled with his training as a medic in the U.S. Army landed him a position as a mental health associate at the NORCAP Lodge alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Foxboro, Mass. Mencarini would go on to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Boston College in 1993 and eventually land a position as a staff psychologist at the Summit Estate Recovery Center in Los Gatos.

“One of our outpatients was the wife of a prominent politician,” he said. “I floated to him the idea of offering DUI offenders the option of outpatient detoxification counseling and he led me to the people that allowed the DUI Detoxification Project to be born.” In sum, those convicted of a DUI in Santa Clara County are given a lesser sentence if they agree to counseling.

According to Mencarini, many DUI convictions involve people addicted to alcohol or drugs, but not to the extent that they will experience severe withdrawals that require 24-hour care. “Most don’t even realize they are addicts,” Mencarini said. “They tell you that they can take it or leave it.  But that is not an adequate standard. You are an addict if, when you take it, you cannot control yourself.”

Mencarini’s pilot program redefines “outpatient,” which normally involves patients coming to a clinic for treatment daily, then returning to their normal lives. DUI probationers have had their driver licenses suspended, so it makes sense that Mencarini goes to them.

“I do this not only for their convenience,” he said. “The theory of inpatient care is that patients are removed from the temptations and old habits of prior drug and alcohol use. Outpatients come to the clinic as well, but then leave each day. The rationale is that they can receive greater social support outside of rehabilitation by maintaining contact with friends and families. However, DUIs are a special case because most are in people in denial.”

Going to the homes of his patients gives Mencarini insights into what forces and habits in their lives likely lead to their alcohol or drug problem. “And often they reveal withdrawal symptoms that fit the classic pattern of addiction, such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, panic attacks, fatigue, muscle and joint pains, and so forth.”

In such cases, Mencarini can arrange for clinical detoxification treatment, including the administering of medications such as disulfiram, which causes unpleasant side effects when small amounts of alcohol are consumed, and naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors that reward the effects of alcohol and drugs.

“But even more often, the problem is not withdrawal but psychological,” Mencarini said. “Patients are using alcohol, drugs or both to self medicate. The answer then simply involves referring patients to their health care providers.”

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