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Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight

The following article was posted on September 1st, 2015, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 16, Issue 26 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 16, Issue 26

Spotlight on: Aegis Treatment Center

Cherlynn Glaser, clinic manager

By SEAN MCNULTY

Aegis Treatment Center, an outpatient opiate recovery center on Fesler Street, hosted an open house on Aug. 20. It was a sunny, cheerful event, with peppy music and free cupcakes, and a grinning medical professional explaining the details of their work around every corner. 

Aegis is the only outpatient center for opiate recovery in Santa Maria, and they’re on the front lines of a national heroin epidemic. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called heroin abuse in America an “urgent health crisis.” Between 2006 and 2010, overdose deaths increased 45 percent nationally, and the amount of heroin seized along America’s southwest border increased fourfold.


HELP IS HERE
Aegis Treatment Center is the only opiate addiction outpatient treatment program in Santa Maria.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CHERYLYNN GLASER

Another problem, according to Aegis clinic manager Dr. Cherylynn Glaser, is prescription painkiller abuse. How does it start? “You walk into a doctor’s office after an accident because you have a hangnail,” she explained. A short-term prescription of an opiate like Oxycotin, to treat a temporary but painful condition, might plant the seed of an addiction.

According to journalist Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, 44 people in America die every day from overdosing on prescription painkillers. 

“There’s so much heroin and so many pain pills,” Glaser said. “With the number of overdoses in the community, it’s an epidemic.”

Aegis Treatment Centers has 25 clinics. Most are in the Central Valley, a handful are clustered in L.A., and there are three on the Central Coast—in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and in Atascadero. As opiate use slowly rises, they plan to open six more, including one in Ventura.

Their largest clinic, in Bakersfield, serves 600 patients. Their clinic in Santa Maria has about 350 patients. 

What portion of those in Santa Maria struggling with opiate addiction do the 350 patients at Aegis represent? “We’re probably not even touching half,” Glaser said. She thinks this might be because their treatment plans sometimes involve prescribing methadone, which carries a serious social stigma—it will bar you from sober living homes, for example.

Of their Santa Maria patients, 250 were admitted in 2015. “That’s larger than any year we’ve had here,” Glaser said. Eighty of those patients are brand new—they’ve never sought treatment at an Aegis center before.

Statewide, opiate addiction is trending younger. Right now, two out of five people seeking treatment with Aegis are “college-aged,” as described by their promotional materials. That’s up from one in five patients in 2006. The majority of these young adults, according to Aegis, are abusing prescription painkillers rather than heroin. 

At the Santa Maria clinic, 80 patients are younger than 30 years old.

Many battling opiate addiction in Santa Maria find themselves going between Marian Medical Center’s emergency room and various street corners. Aegis is focused on picking up patients during the vanishing window of opportunity between those two stops—after someone’s been treated at the hospital, sometimes with a drug like methadone, but before they slide back into the nausea, fever, and desperation of relapse.

Potential patients can walk into Aegis seven days a week to schedule an appointment. Admission to the program means sitting down with staff to talk through psych history and an assessment with Dr. Kazi Mohiuddin, the medical director of the clinic.

Aegis is focused on harm reduction with the eventual goal of abstinence. Their treatment strategies are, first and foremost, aimed to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use.

They also provide referrals to mental health services, insofar as those issues rub against addiction. “If they’re a person who had a noteworthy health or psych issue, we would want to make a referral, just to let them know,” explained Dr. Charles E. Smith, who supervises the counseling staff. “They’re a person with addiction, but they’re also a person with psych issues, with social issues.”

Ultimately, the goal at Aegis is to get people off of opiates. “This is an outpatient opiate recovery center, with an emphasis on recovery,” Glaser explained. “It might not happen next week, but in the long term that’s the goal for all of our patients. We do have a lot of patients who are in their 20s, and I don’t want them to be on methadone for two years.”

Staff Writer Sean McNulty wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, email, or mail.