Research has shown that many individuals who were addicted to opiates before they went to jail will return to their former use when they are released. That trend is especially true in Highlands, where the county sheriff, Susan Benton, has released data showing that the majority of opiate users return to their former addiction. She is hoping that a newly available drug that was approved in 2010 will help to lessen these numbers greatly.
“I have high hopes that this new drug will help those getting out of jail, offering a leg up on getting their life together and finding a job,” Benton stated. This drug is called VIVITROL, and it will become available through a state pilot program. The roll-out of this new drug is scheduled to occur in the next few weeks and will be available to those addicted to opiates as long as they pass a screening process.
This program will be administered through the Tallahassee-based Florida Drug and Alchohol Abuse Association. The Tri-County Human Services program has already contacted the administrators and is contracted to work with them. The Tri-County Human Services program already services recovering addicts at their facility in Highlands County.
Robert Rihn, who works at Tri-County as the executive director, is enthusiastic about the new treatment program. He sees this as a new door for drug addicts as VIVTROL will completely prevent an addict from getting high even after they have used an opiate based drug. It significantly lessens the appeal of drugs such as this.
Their partnership with the Florida Drug and Alcohol Abuse Association is creating conditions where VIVTROL is more available across Florida. While a tablet form of the drug has been available since the 1980’s, this new injectable form has only become available recently. This new injectable version has a longer effect than they tablet and will work for an entire month. Now that it is available in Flordia, he believes addicts will have higher rates of recovery.
There are stipulations for using this drug. To be approved you have to have been free of all opiates for at least one full week. If someone used this drug before then, they could suffer serious negative effects. This stipulation is what made jail inmates a sought after choice for the roll-out of VIVTROL. Most inmates who are coming out jail were there for over seven days and didn’t have access to drugs, making them prime candidates for this program.
Benton has stated that this drug would be offered to addicts who were being released on a voluntary basis. While they have high hopes that they will have people following up in one month, there are concerns that people won’t return. Regardless, the screening process is focused on finding inmates who are interested and invested in stopping their opiate drug use forever.
This is not just because of the amount of money that is poured into this program. In addition, those who receive the drug are at risk for negative side effects for one month if they use any opiates. Due to this, Rihn and the rest of the program are very focused on sharing VIVITROL with those who are truly motivated to get clean. He believe that many people will not relapse when on this medication but is realistic about the needed changes. Not every addict is willing to change their lifestyle and avoid old friends who may trigger a relapse.
This pilot program will also provide training for those who are administering the drug, and assist with screening, stated the director of residential services at Tri-County, Jacque Henderson. She also says that those who receive the drug should only need it for a short period of time, to help overcome the withdrawal period.
Rihn has said that the Highlands County jail will not be the first Florida jail to provide the drug, but that not many jails are participating yet. The pilot program should be starting within six weeks.