Heroin addicts begin lining up outside the Third Street Clinic in Santa Ana early, sometimes as early as 4 a.m., waiting to get the methadone that will help them make it through the day--maybe working a job or raising a family or just avoiding the needle one more time.
The clinic serves about 450 addicts, about 300 of whom are heavy, longtime users on maintenance programs that cost each of them $150 a month. The rest have been using heroin less than two years and are on detoxification programs that require them to show up for methadone on 21 consecutive days at $6 a dose.
Nobody denies that the clinic's work is admirable and necessary--not even 3rd Street residents who submitted their petition to the City Council on Monday. That petition, bearing 154 signatures, calls for moving the clinic from the area.
In the face of that opposition, clinic officials now say they'll try to find a place to relocate the operation.
"I think we have to," said Joyce Ray, who opened the private clinic in 1981 with co-owner Robert Kahn when government methadone clinics were severely cut back. "But I'm not going to close the program."
Marcos Silva, who lives just east of the clinic, said he began collecting signatures and hanging flyers in the area decrying "the growing problem that is ruining and destroying our neighborhood" because residents could no longer co-exist with the facility.
Drug sales in the area, noise, littering and a lack of parking for the addicts had made life unbearable, Silva said.
"We're not against what they're doing," he said. "We think they're doing a good job. . . . we're glad these people are seeking help to get off their dependence on heroin. But there can be no compromise on this--the place just has to be relocated."
Ray's clinic is the only privately operated methadone clinic in Santa Ana. There is one county-operated clinic in Santa Ana, on 17th Street, and two other private clinics elsewhere in in the county.
Ray said she will meet with City Manager David N. Ream today to discuss the issue. She said she hopes to work with the city to find a suitable location, probably in a commercial or light industrial area.
"We would welcome that," said Councilman Dan Young, pledging the council's support to help find another site for the clinic. "We don't have any criticism of the good work that's going on; we know it has a purpose. However, we think it's very poorly located."
But relocation won't solve what Ray believes is the real problem for residents. Transients living on an adjoining empty lot have been the main problem for about 18 months, she said.
The "winos" will panhandle from addicts and residents alike, throwing bottles and cooking over open fires on the empty lot, she said.
"When we're gone, the drunks will still be here," she said.
Raymond Kong, who has owned a liquor store just north of the clinic for 26 years, agreed that drunks are a major part of the problem. Kong said he didn't organize the petition drive but passed out flyers at his store.
"It's just like a prison," he said. "Everybody agrees you need it, but nobody wants one near them."
No Major Crime
Kong said a lot of addicts frequent his store and there have been numerous petty thefts. But he said there hasn't been any major crime involving clinic clients.
"I have to call the cops almost every day. . . . I either have hypes or transients," Kong said.
Inside the clinic Wednesday afternoon, one addict paused before taking his daily methadone to comment on the neighborhood complaints. "I come in here, I get my dose, I leave and go to work," he said, adding that he had been on the maintenance program three years. "They (the transients) come in here and blow our scene. We're dope fiends trying to clean up our act."
As for the allegations of drug-dealing, most of the clients scoffed at the accusations, saying heroin can be purchased in numerous locations in the city.
The clinic's purpose isn't simply to dole out methadone, which fulfills the body's need for heroin but allows the user to function normally and work while trying to get clean, Ray said. The program also provides other health services. Venereal disease is treated, and pregnancies are monitored.
In the case of a pregnant addict, Third Street Clinic staffers work with county personnel to assist in keeping the woman clean until delivery and beyond. Ray said more than 1,000 Third Street clients have had babies, and none has suffered any brain damage or permanent harm from withdrawal after birth.
The program, under which addicts get gradually decreasing doses of methadone, is more than just an alternative to heroin, Ray said. It also provides them with a way to refuse heroin and avoid using needles, which can be as addictive as the heroin itself, she said.
"We're detoxing them from the needle; we're detoxing them from their pusher; we're doing much more than just providing methadone," she said.