After the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick declared the abuse of heroin and other opioids to be a public health crisis, initiatives were put into place in an attempt to combat the problem. One plan involved the introduction of a new addiction treatment program using Vivitrol (Naltrexone) injections at Barnstable County Correctional Facility in 2012. With each injection costing almost $1,000, has the program, so far, been effective? If so,will the program continue to be successful or will it end up being a costly mistake?
Vivitrol is an injection that blocks opioid receptors in the brain to reduce cravings and prevent addicts from using heroin and other opioids for approximately one month. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2005 for opioid treatment, Vivitrol is not addictive, nor does it have any street value. While similar programs have been introduced in 25 states, they all remain in the early stages. As a result, there are no long term statistics available regarding Vivitrol’s success when used within the inmate population.
While other states sentence drug addicted offenders to Vivitrol programs, Barnstable’s program is the first voluntary “re-entry program” in the United States. Inmates who opt to participate are given their initial injection approximately one week before they are scheduled to be released. As part of the program, they are assisted with job placement and housing. Additionally, they are linked to outpatient care for ongoing counseling and appointments are set up for further injections. In many cases, additional shots are paid for by the state’s Medicaid program.
A participant’s progress is tracked after their release through their attendance in outpatient programs at the Gosnold on Cape Cod Treatment Center, as well as through contact with their families. According to Barnstable Sheriff James Cummings,"We've had great success with it thus far."
Recently data was released regarding more than 100 inmates who have gone through the Barnstable Program since it was launched in 2012. 21 percent of the participants have been re-incarcerated. This is significantly less than the national average. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, almost 70 percent of former inmates in the United States are rearrested within three years of their release. 57 percent of these arrests occur within one year of their release.
At first glance, $1,000 for one injection that lasts only a month at the most seems expensive. However, Cummings states, “The cost of one Naltrexone shot is 45 times less than what it takes to house an inmate for a year at Barnstable.”
Due to the success the program has seen so far, there are no plans to end the program. Cummings pointed out, “It is not the magic pill. It is just another tool, and as far as we are concerned a very effective tool."