Published in Long Island Pulse on November 23, 2016
Joe McKinsey grew up in South Ozone Park Queens, got a high school education and managed to land a series of good jobs…then proceeded to lose every one. By the time he was in his 30s, he was living in Los Angeles with a wife, a 5-year-old daughter and an addiction to drugs and alcohol that would nearly destroy him.
Remembering the day he finally called a treatment facility for help, McKinsey said, “They told me it would take 21 days to break a bad habit. Well that was an understatement…but it was a great start.” In the course of his recovery, McKinsey made a discovery: when he was open with others about his problem, they would describe their own struggles with substance abuse. “I’m not very anonymous about my recovery,” he admitted. “If you are with me for more than 10 minutes, you’ll find out.”
McKinsey soon found a calling to help others with the same problem. This often meant assisting them in finding treatment, something most addicts never receive. According to the most recent data published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2013 about 8.6 percent of Americans needed treatment for a drug or alcohol use problem, yet less than 1 percent received it at a specialty facility.
As McKinsey helped more people into recovery he “became a go-to guy on both coasts” and began to notice unaddressed need: “People who have some wealth want a place where they are going to be comfortable.” In 2010, years after moving back East and building a successful computer business, he founded The Dunes, a high-end addiction treatment center in East Hampton that accommodates up to 10 people in a family-like live-in environment.
Although The Dunes is a luxury rehab center, McKinsey has made its services available to those who cannot afford the full cost. He estimates that these “scholarships” have amounted to about $3 million over the past six years. When McKinsey first had the idea to open the center, he sought advice from Dr. Howard Shaffer, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and expert on addiction. Shaffer eventually became the senior project consultant for The Dunes and is now conducting a five-year study of program outcomes.
McKinsey said it’s these outcomes that have helped bolster his own recovery. “It’s amazing the change in people. When they come, they are nervous and angry. They start to turn back into the person they should be. That is the thing that gives me the most pleasure. When it works, it’s magic.”