BENNINGTON — The state is hoping to increase the usage of a drug that prevents relapse in those undergoing treatment from opioid addiction by making it available to those being released from jail.
Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Tuesday that a pilot program involving the use of naltrexone (Brand name Vivitrol) will begin in January and be available to those being released from the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland.
Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids and reduces cravings, said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health. It is administered via injection and lasts for 30 days.
Cimaglio said doctors across the state can already prescribe the medication, and it is covered by Medicaid, but this program, which will expand to other state correctional facilities, is designed to increase awareness and training for providers.
Naltrexone's effects are similar to other opioid-blocking medications such as Suboxone and Methadone, however naltrexone is not an opioid. It only needs to be taken monthly, not daily like Suboxone and Methadone. One must also be completely free of opioids before taking the medication, otherwise it induces a withdrawal state.
A screening process will be in place for those who want the medication, Cimaglio said. It will only be given to those deemed serious about getting treatment, who will follow through with counseling and other recovery recommendations.
Those getting naltrexone will be tested for opioids before being given the injection, she said.
The medication also blocks the effects of alcohol and reduces cravings. It does not work on other drugs such as marijuana or cocaine.
The program is being funded by a $3 million Medication Assisted Treatment and Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant is for three years and will accommodate 350 people, said Cimaglio.
Those people have not yet been identified. She said participation in the program does not come with reduced sentencing and is aimed at people who need help in the first stages of their addiction treatment upon being released from jail.
"Naltrexone is especially promising for treating people coming out of our correctional system, who may be motivated to stay clean but are struggling," said Shumlin, in a release. "Because of the way naltrexone works to block the 'high' from using opioid drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers, this new treatment can help recovering addicts avoid a relapse."
Cimaglio said the drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so this is not an experiment to see if it works. The program's effects will be monitored, but results won't be known until the grant ends.
The grant will let the state establish the program. Once the grant runs out, the state will be able to continue it, Cimaglio said.
"The first few weeks after release from prison is the riskiest time for a recovering addict," said Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen, in a release. "By offering this new medication choice, combined with psychosocial therapy and strong peer support, we aim to change the paradigm from medication assisted treatment to medication assisted recovery for people returning to the community."
Cimaglio said this is an extension of the state's other efforts to treat widespread opioid addiction. Other measures have included the dispensing of overdose reversal kits, which are available for free at the Turning Point Center in Bennington, and a pretrial service program which can let eligible offenders avoid jail time by seeking addiction treatment.