SAN DIEGO — The McAlister Institute, a substance abuse treatment organization, has a variety of programs and treatment centers in the county that helps people battling drug addiction.

The institute, which is contracted by the County of San Diego, provides substance abuse treatment and educational awareness in an effort to help people overcome addiction through a variety of means, such as drug detox and other treatment.

“It was just selfish of me, selfish thinking,” said Gehrig Browning, who is recovering from fentanyl and heroin abuse.

Browning will be clean from fentanyl and heroin for a year on May 29. He’s been living in a sober living house for five months while holding down a job.

“What was so freely given to you, you have to give it back so others can. know I can do it to,” said Joy Rubio, a drug and alcohol counselor and supervisor with McAlister Institute’s “Work for Hope” program. Rubio works with many people, like Browning, in this program.

Browning battled OxyContin, then heroin starting at 18-years-old. After getting clean in prison, he joined the U.S. Forest Services as a Forestry Technician in 2015. He relapsed with fentanyl a few years in.

“There were many times I would get sick, but I just had to push through,” Browning said. “But I wasn’t the best worker I could be, it impacted my performance. More than anything, my attendance.”

Eventually, Browning said his boss noticed his drug use. Browning said his boss gave him two options: get tested or resign. In 2018 he made the decision to resign. He then lived without a home in Tijuana and had a jail stint in 2021 and 2022.

“When did you realize you were ready to get help for yourself?” FOX 5 asked Browning.

“For me, I just hit a point where this isn’t how I was raised,” Browning said. “It took the drive away of living life. I wasn’t living life. I was just existing in it.”

“He was a firefighter through all that and look where he is at, you give inspiration to other people,” Rubio said.

“You have to constantly engage them and let them know someone cares, and they are there to help you whenever you are ready,” Rubio said.

Funding from the City of Chula Vista helps Rubio get people who have been living on the streets with addiction into detox centers. Then Rubio said he works with them on job and life skills, such as resume building and learning to take the bus.

“Getting clean is easy, staying clean is hard,” Rubio said.

“This becomes a 24/7 addiction,” said McAlister Institute Medical Director Dr. James Dunford.

Dr. Dunford said fentanyl can be in any form; powder, liquid or pills. The deadly drug has no targeting victim, but is treatable with medication, education and counseling, according to the medical professional.

“That’s what treatment is about — is taking a comprehensive look at someone’s life. How ready are they to change? How likely is it to change?” Dunford explained.

“Still haven’t seen my family since..in years. I want to be a part of their lives and stay a part of their lives. That’s where my mindset is today,” Browning said.

Click here to learn about programs and services with McAlister Institute.

This story comes as Tuesday, May 9 marked Fentanyl Awareness Day.