Could Vivitrol be the heroin antidote?

How one county jail is helping recovering addicts

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In 2015, more than 300 inmates at the Albany County Jail reported using heroin or opioids.  In October of last year, the county started a new program to help inmates get clean.

No one wants to end up in jail, yet 47-year-old Brian Morrill did after he was unable to break heroin’s grip.

“I became a heroin user in prison,” he explained.

However, it was in prison he got one last shot at getting clean and eventually getting out.

“I was more saved than arrested,” he added.

Morrill was sent to the Albany County Jail, which happens to be one of the handful of county jails offering a Vivitrol program. Many believe the program is the key to breaking the opioid addiction.

“Goal is to get people in treatment and get them out,” explained Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

The sheriff says 60 percent of the inmates in his jail end up returning. Nine percent of them have a drug problem like Morrill, who has been in and out of jail for drug-related crimes since he was 17.

The last time he was in jail, he was able to enter into the “Sheriff’s Heroin Addiction and Recovery Program,” otherwise known as SHARP. It sets up around 20 non-violent prisoners in their own wing.

The Addiction Care Center of Albany comes in every day to conduct peer-to-peer counseling.

“From my vantage point, this looks like a solution,” Dennis Mosley, one of the SHARP Group coordinators, said. “It doesn’t get you high.”

According to the makers of the drug, Vivtrol blocks opioid receptors. It blocks the pleasurable feeling someone gets when taking a drug like heroin.

“With Vivitrol, you’re not going to get high, so it would be like throwing your money away,” Morrill said.

It’s also a non-narcotic. Mosley says users can’t get addicted unlike Suboxone, another heroin treatment option, which some users sell back on the street, according to investigators.

There is a big catch. Vivitrol is very expensive. Each shot, which lasts a month, cost more than $900, according to Apple. But the sheriff says to compare that to the cost of incarceration at $70,000 a year, and the program is well worth it to him.

“I don’t have a craving for it,” Morrill said.

Morrill says it worked for him and many other inmates.  According to Sheriff Apple, since October, 87 people have gone through SHARP and only 9 inmates have returned. That’s a success rate of nearly 90 percent.

“Right now, it’s like a wonder drug,” Mosley described.

Inmates who are eligible, like Morrill, get the shot before they are released.

“I’ve had two so far,” he said.

He was released in May 2016, and he’s managed to stay out of jail. He tells NEWS10 ABC he’s planning to stay in treatment until he’s finally able to close the door on his addiction.

Sheriff Apple has promised former inmates jobs if they keep up with treatment.

NEWS10 reached out to Vivitrol about the cost of the drug, and they sent the following statement:

Overall, insurance plan coverage of VIVITROL has been growing at a rapid pace since the FDA approval of VIVITROL. Very few public or commercial insurance plans do not cover or reimburse for VIVITROL (only 2% of plans).

In addition, Alkermes offers the VIVITROL Co-pay Savings Program: https://www.vivitrol.com/Savings. Unlike many other assistance programs, there are no income requirements to be eligible, and the program covers patients who have insurance as well as those who are self-pay. Of note, 91%1 of insured patients using the program had no out‑of‑pocket expenses for VIVITROL.* (1Data derived from insured patients enrolled in the VIVITROL Co-pay Savings Program from March 2014 through February 2015.)

As with most medication there are potential  side effects for Vivitrol. A full list of those side effects can be found at the following link: https://www.vivitrol.com/About/SafetyAndSideEffects

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