Prisons testing new drug to combat opioid addictions

By David Eugene Archer Sr.

Some U.S. prisons are testing a monthly injection that could help addicted prisoners stay off opioids, reported The Associated Press (AP).

The drug named Vivitrol is injected in the buttocks and lasts for four weeks, the story said.

Each shot costs as much as $1,000, the Nov. 20 AP story noted.

Experts do not agree on how well it works, but it eliminates daily doses of an alternative like methadone, according to the AP.

Advocates of Vivitrol in Illinois say it could save money when compared to $25,000 a year to lock up a drug addict.

“It sounds good, and for some of us, it feels like the right thing to do,” said Dr. Joshua Lee, a Vivitrol researcher.

The opioid epidemic affects more than 2 million Americans and an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. prison population. Many experts see prisons as a natural place to discover what works, reported the AP.

Christopher Wolf is a heroin addict who was ordered by a judge into treatment using Vivitrol. Three months later, he is clean and said, “I don’t have cravings. I see how much better life is. It gets better really fast.”

Vivitrol targets receptors in the brain’s reward system, blocking the high and extinguishing urges, according to the AP.

“It sounds good, and for some of us, it feels like the right thing to do”

Researchers have recognized addiction as a relapsing brain disease with medication an important part of therapy, reported the story.

Joshua Meador, 28, an inmate in Illinois, said, “When I’m on Vivitrol, I can’t get high.” The drug has no street value or abuse potential, the story stated.

Dr. Joseph Garbely of Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers prefers Vivitrol for patients. He said that counseling, support groups and treatment for problems like depression are crucial for them.

“The disease of addiction is a cunning, baffling and powerful one, and you need all hands on deck,” Garbely said.

David Farabee of the University of California at Los Angeles said, “You couldn’t design something better for the criminal justice system.” He leads a Vivitrol study in a New Mexico jail. “There’s been pushback with other medications, people saying, ‘We’re just changing one drug for another.’ That argument goes out the window when you’re talking about a blocker” like Vivitrol.

A National Institute on Drug Abuse study of about 300 prisoners – most heroin users on probation or parole – received Vivitrol or brief counseling and referral to a treatment program.

After six months, the Vivitrol group had a lower rate of relapse, 43 percent compared to 64 percent. However, when the injections stopped, many relapsed. A year later, relapse rates looked the same in both groups.

“It does suggest six months wasn’t enough,” said Lee, the lead author.

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