Ignacio Gonzalez is a former heroin addict who spent 26 years in and out of prison for petty theft before turning to Merced's Aegis Methadone Clinic for help.
Ignacio Gonzalez, Former Heroin Addict: "If Aegis wasn't here in Merced, if the community had not accepted them here, I believe that I would probably still be in prison, or probably dead."
Now the father of five is clean and even runs his own tree service with his sons. He's one of the many success stories staff members say they've seen since opening the methadone clinic just over two years ago.
Melanie Fowler, Aegis Methadone Clinic Manager: "There are many people who graduate the program and are completely free of methadone and go on and live successful lives."
Methadone is used to treat patients addicted to opiates including heroin, and prescription pills like Vicodin. It decreases cravings and inhibits withdrawals. However, critics claim it's simply substituting one addictive substance for another. Many physicians even refuse to treat people on methadone. But clinic manager Melanie Fowler says it's a key part of a program that includes extensive counseling and gradual reductions in the dosage.
Melanie Fowler: "The Aegis model is basically a comprehensive approach to treatment, knowing that medication does not solve the world's problems."
The clinic has now served about 380 patients. It has caused controversy along the way. Protestors forced Aegis to change its first proposed site near a school and some public officials worried the downtown location would bring more addicts to the area. But Fowler says that's not the case.
Melanie Fowler: "Addicts are here. If the methadone clinic wasn't here, it would be a worse problem than it is right now for heroin."