Divisions over addict prison injections
US prisons are experimenting with a high-priced monthly injection that could help addicted inmates stay off opioids after they are released, but skeptics question its effectiveness and say the manufacturer has aggressively marketed an unproven drug to corrections officials.
Asingle shot of Vivitrol, given in the buttocks, lasts for four weeks and eliminates the need for the daily doses common with alternatives such as methadone. But each shot costs as much as $1,000, and because the drug has a limited track record, experts do not agree on how well it works.
Proponents say Vivitrol could save money compared with the cost of locking up a drug offender — about $25,000 a year for each inmate at the Sheridan Correctional Center, 110 kilometers southwest of Chicago.
Dr Joshua Lee, ofNewYork University’s medical school, said more evidence is needed to determine whether the medication can help substantial numbers of people and whether it’s worth paying for, but the early results are encouraging.
“It sounds good, and for someof us, it feels liketheright thing to do,” saidLee, a leading researcher on the treatment.
Vivitrol is emerging as the nation searches for ways to ease an opioid epidemic that affects more than 2 million people and an estimated 15 percent of the US prison population. Many experts view prisons — where addiction’s human toll can be seen most clearly— as a natural place to discover what works.
Christopher Wolf had already served prison time for nonviolent crimes when he was ordered into treatment for a heroin addiction by a judgewhosuggested Vivitrol. Three months later, the 36-year-old from Centerville, Ohio, is clean and working full time as a cook.
He now suggests the medication to other addicts.
“Idon’thave cravings,” Wolf said. “I see how much better life is. It gets better really fast.”
Vivitrol targets receptors in the brain’s reward system, blocking the high and extinguishing urges. In some programs, prisoners get an injection before release, then follow-up shots from clinics.
Prison systems in Illinois, Vermont, Wyoming and Wisconsin are trying the drug on a small scale. Michigan is offering Vivitrol to parolees who commit small crimes, if addiction is the reason for their newoffense.
The federal Bureau of Prisons ran a field trial in Texas and plans to expand the program to the Northeast next year. The drug’s manufacturer hopes prisons will be the gateway to a larger market.
the cost of each injection of Vivitrol, which is being tested on inmates