FOX19 Investigates: A magic shot for addiction?

(FOX19) - Prescription drug and heroin overdose has skyrocketed in the tri-state. But a new drug, that's exclusively made in our area, could be a breakthrough in getting addicts clean for good.

It's called Vivitrol – a non-narcotic form of the drug Naltrexone.

There are a handful of drug court and recovery programs in Ohio that are using the drug as part of addiction treatment. Every Thursday in Hocking County Municipal Court, recovering heroin addicts attend a special Vivitrol drug court.

"It's 7 days clean and I'm still sick, but I'm gonna make it," said one recovering addict who had just entered the program.

Frustrated with the current drug treatment options for heroin addiction in Hocking County, Municipal Court Judge Fred Moses decided to introduce Vivitrol to his program. The drug is just one part of the continuum of care for clients, who also receive support for mental health issues and social service support from county agencies.

"I would wager money that 65 to 70 percent of people that come into my court have some type of opiate issue," Moses said. "It's severe, very severe."

Once a month, participants receive a Vivitrol injection. Unlike Methadone and Suboxone, the two other drugs used to treat narcotics, Vivitrol is not addictive. Since it's taken monthly by injection and not by mouth in pill form, the patient can't skip a dose or choose not to take it. Vivitrol blocks receptors in the brain and prevents a person from getting high. The effect lasts for 30 days.

"When I was using, before I got on Vivitrol, my mind was so wrapped up in drugs," said recovering addict, Jennifer, a participant in the Hocking County Vivitrol Cour.

Jennifer told FOX19 she began using drugs when she was 18.  She remembered her first exposure to heroin; how it was a high she quickly couldn't live without.

"It was the first thing I thought of before my feet hit the ground, how I was gonna' get it, who I was gonna' hustle for money, so I could get it," Jennifer said. "I've lost permanent custody of my two older children. I no longer have rights to them. I've lost my home, my cars."

Fourteen people have received Vivitrol injections in the Hocking County program. The injections have been paid for by Medicaid or grant funding. Judge Moses said one person relapsed and one left the program due to pregnancy.

"Vivitrol is a great tool but it's not the answer," Moses said. "You're trying to give them a window where's there's sobriety where we can deal with their issues and get them into treatment."

In Wilmington, just shy of a cornfield, in a non-descript building is where Vivitrol is made.

The drug manufacturer, Alkermes, gave us a look inside where vials of the drug are mass-produced. In addition to Hocking County, Alkermes has worked with other Vivitrol pilot programs, including two in Warren and Hamilton counties.

In Warren County, Vivitrol was used at the county jail as part of a drug treatment program. Ten addicts participated in the year-long program, which had a 42 percent success rate. At Talbert House in Cincinnati, about a dozen addicts have received injections, paid for either by a federal grant or private insurance. Those results are still pending.

Recovering heroin addict Jeremy Kuhn is about to complete his 12-month program.

"Even if I was to get high, it's not gonna' do anything to me. That was the best part, the whole mindset. You can't get high on it, so there's no point to think about it," Kuhn said.

But the drug is extremely expensive. Without insurance, it costs more than a thousand dollars for a single injection. Alkermes has offered first doses free to the pilot programs and also has a co-pay reimbursement program for patients on Vivitrol. Health officials told FOX19 that the investment may be worth it, although there isn't enough data to show how it would affect long-term public costs.

"Most insurance is paying for it because it's less expensive in the long run. It prevents ER visits for overdose, relapse treatment programs or social services to care for families," said Patti Ellison, a nurse practitioner at Talbert House.

Orman Hall is the director of the Governor's Cabinet Opiate Action Team. Hall shared this shocking statistic: every day, five people in Ohio die from opiates. While the jury is still out on Vivitrol treatment in January, the state will roll out a $5 million program in five counties that will include Vivitrol therapy. The idea: to see if Vivitrol could be used on a larger scale.

"There are no magic bullets, there are just tools that we need to make sure we are using effectively," Hall said.

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