Aegis Treatment Center gave an introductory peek of its forthcoming drug treatment center on Mitchell Road last Wednesday when it hosted a ribbon cutting and a walk-through for the community with snacks served.
The open house was arranged to explain the purpose of the facility and assuage some of the angst some in the community have. Last summer a crowd of Ceres residents descended on a City Council meeting to protest Aegis Treatment Center from operating in the commercial zone. The residents were told that medical offices are permitted uses in the zone.
“We had some NIMBYism, a not in my backyard kind of thing,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Aegis regional clinic manager for North Central Valley. “We wanted to do an open house so everybody can see the finished product, see what the facility is because there’s a lot of stereotypes and stigma in regards to the clientele that we serve and what the buildings look like.”
The same building includes Tower Physical Therapy and DaVita’s Ceres Dialysis clinic in addition to Angel Nails & Spa and Godspeed Barber Shop.
About two years ago representatives of Aegis approached the city looking for a place in Ceres, stating their preference was for Turlock but Ceres as a backup for demand for such a service and alleviate pressure to meet demand at its Modesto clinic. The Turlock location fell through so Aegis came back to Ceres, opting for the strip mall on the east side of Mitchell Road just south of Walmart.
Aegis is a methadone clinic where a person who is addicted to opioid-based drugs, such as heroin or prescription painkillers, can receive medication-based therapy and counseling. Patients receive methadone, or Dolophine, which is an opioid analgesic. Other drugs administered are buprenorphine under the brand of Subutex. This treatment is often referred to as replacement therapy.
When patients first come in, they meet with a doctor, said Mitchell, and be assessed medically as well as see a counselor. Doctors will prescribe medications and once stable and attending counseling and showing they are active in society, they can earn “take homes,” or medications they can take at home.
The drugs are used to prevent the onset of opioid withdrawal and, via the phenomenon of cross-tolerance development with regular use, block the effects of opiate pain medications, including morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and other semi-synthetic opioids. Although the treatment must be prescribed by a doctor, it is not a cure for addiction issues. It is nonetheless considered effective during the treatment and rehabilitation process as part of a comprehensive treatment program.
Treatment provided at a clinic has several effects. People who have visited one may see the following benefits.
• A reduction or avoidance of opioid withdrawal symptoms;
• A decrease in opioid cravings;
• Blocking of the effects of illicit opioids;
• Ceasing of a physical need for illicit or otherwise abused opioid substances, so a person can function normally day-to-day.
Mitchell said research shows that a combination of medications and counseling have the best results to get people off of opiates whether it be heroin, Vicodin and Norcos. Aegis offers three detox programs: 21 days, 180 days and maintenance program.
“Each person is different in what they need,” explained Mitchell.
The fear of the community is that Aegis will cause problems by attracting undesirable characters who will loiter, steal, trespass or set up homeless camps.
“Everybody thinks it’s the traditional heroin 30-year IV user, large homeless population. Modesto is our largest clinic with 950 capacity and less than five percent of our population is homeless. We have police officers, we have nurses, we have college kids, we have multiple generations. We have the 80-year-old grandma whose doctor kicked her off of her Vicodin prescription for back pain that she’s been taking for 15 years. So what do you do with that person? Doctors are cracking down which is turn putting people in crisis.”
The Ceres facility will open in the next month with six counselors, a manager and assistant manager, three medical assistants, two nurses and one physician and a concierge which acts as a security guard. The entrance to the facility will be from the rear where there is an under-utilized parking lot where security cameras will be on and any loiterers will be pushed along.
“It’s hard for cancer patients (to get pain medications) now,” Chief Medical Officer Brian Talleur, M.D. “We have some patients who have cancer and they’ve cut their medications off and now they have physical dependence. They would have opiod use disorder if they started committing crimes, dropping out of life and having social problems.”
He said what he is now seeing is Mexican drug cartels in California obtaining fentanyl from China which look just like Oxycodone and distributing them here.
“You think you’re doing Oxycodone but you’re doing something that only takes 200 micrograms to kill you,” said Dr. Talleur.
Aegis, a for-profit organization, operates in 14 counties.
Talleur said only about 15 percent of patients successfully complete the program and wean themselves off of drugs. The others are either on long-term medications or drop out of the program.