An Ohio community is tackling the issue of opiate and heroin addiction head on with a unique prosecutor Vivitrol program that’s the first-of-its-kind in the state.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn recently shared his program at the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association annual spring training. He is the first prosecutor in the state and one of the first in the nation to implement such a program.
The program has experienced a 33 percent decrease in probation violations, a $15,000 savings on the county’s jail bill, and a 15 percent faster case resolution since implementing the program, according to WCMH-TV in Columbus.
Blackburn says the program has been more successful than court-based programs because it provides assistance for everyone in the home and not just the addict.
“The court can only deal with who’s in the defendant’s chair,” Blackburn told WCMH-TV. “By being prosecutor-based, you’re able to help everybody. We go in a home, we deal with witnesses. Those witnesses are also opiate addicts.”
Vivitrol is a long-acting formulation of naltrexone, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid addiction in 2010. Several studies have proven its effectiveness for blocking the brain’s opioid receptors so users don’t feel a high when taking an opioid substance. This eventually causes the addict to not crave heroin or prescription painkillers anymore because they can no longer feel the effects from those drugs.
Health experts, however, recommend that addicts receive counseling and therapy along with taking Vivitrol.
“Naltrexone buys you a month, but if you stop taking it and you haven’t developed coping strategies, you may relapse,” says H. Westley Clark, a retired former director for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “People do recover from opioid dependencies, but often to do so they also need to deal with other issues in their lives.”
Vivitrol is just one of many efforts by the federal government in response to the opioid drug epidemic in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 21.5 million Americans age 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription painkillers and 586,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin.
Alkermes, the maker of Vivitrol, says there are now about 100 programs using the medication in 30 states to treat opioid and alcohol addiction.