Program to fight opioid addiction spreading across Grand Canyon State

Referred to by some as a "miracle drug" in the fight against opioid addiction, Vivitrol is now spreading to treatment programs across Arizona.

Maricopa County is now using the drug as one of their treatment options for inmates struggling to overcome addiction. Inmates who are identified as high-risk, willing to participate in the program, and who pass the screening process, are eligible to receive an initial shot of Vivitrol before leaving jail.

"We want to prevent them from relapsing, we want to lower the recidivism rate, we want to prevent overdose deaths," said Dr. Grant Phillips, who is the assistant medical director with Maricopa County Correctional Health Services.

Vivitrol is an injectable form of Naltrexone and designed to block your brain's opioid receptors. Essentially, the monthly shot is designed to prevent an opioid user from getting high. However, experts warn counseling must come along with the medication.

"If someone feels like they're getting a magic bullet with one injection but doesn't agree to go to the counseling and doesn't go to their support groups, it may not work well for them," Phillips said.

Dr. Phillips told ABC15 interested inmates are screened to determine if they are good candidates to start on Vivitrol. Those who qualify will receive an initial shot before they're release from jail and will have other services, like counseling, lined up and ready to go.

Vivitrol is one tool Maricopa County is now using as part of their "Mosaic Program," a comprehensive treatment program for inmates.

Two inmates at the Durango Jail received a Vivitrol shot in July.

Vivitrol is not just being used at the county level. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey called for Vivitrol to be used in the state's prison system back in January. This Summer, the Arizona Department of Corrections also began a Vivitrol program.

The initial doses provided to outgoing inmates are provided free by the drugmaker, Alkermes. Insurance, or AHCCCS, the state's Medicaid program, then come into play.

"Literally, I cannot express how much it has completely taken my cravings away," said Julie Castorina, who is recovering from a heroin addiction. Castorina, who has served time in prison, talked with ABC15 about her experience with Vivitrol. She is now on her second shot.

"I'm actually fixing what's going on inside of me," she said. "With the shot, obviously it helps it to where I can deal with those things so I am not all encompassed in using and getting high or thinking about it and I can deal with my problems and my issues."

In addition to taking Vivitrol, Castorina is undergoing counseling through Scottsdale Recovery Center.

"Medically-assisted treatment is a viable part of treatment, and it has to be viewed as a part of treatment," said David Larimer, program director with Scottsdale Recovery Center. "The longer you're in treatment, the more successful you're going to be."

Maricopa County Correctional Health Services expects their 3rd and 4th inmates to start on Vivitrol by September. 

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