Lake County to take next step in fight against heroin
Law enforcement has saved many lives with the opioid antidote naloxone, but what can happen next is the other side of the story Lake County officials want to change.
"You realize you're saving the same life two or three times," Undersheriff Ray Rose said. "Treatment has to be the next step."
Officials on Thursday announced a test program for Lake County jail inmates involving the nonaddictive drug Vivitrol (naltrexone) that reduces cravings for alcohol and opioids. The program is intended to give inmates who want to kick addiction the resources to do so.
That's a key strategy as drug addicts often are jailed for crimes involved with supporting their habits, authorities say.
"This is what's going to help us start breaking the cycle," Rose said. "It becomes one more tool we have available to have an impact on this heroin epidemic that's affecting our communities."
The initiative by the jail and county health department is part of a recently expanded Medication-Assisted Treatment program funded by a $325,000 federal grant.
Rose said authorities have been researching the use of Vivitrol -- a powerful treatment that blocks receptors in the brain and reduces the pleasurable effects of opioids and alcohol -- for a year and a half. It was approved by the FDA in 2006, but cost has been a factor, he said.
According to Rose, the original cost of a single shot was $1,100, but a shift for its coverage under Medicaid has lowered that to $3 per dose. Each shot lasts 28 days. Lake County officials decided to proceed after being encouraged by the reported success of a similar program in Winnebago County.
Former inmates are at higher risk for death from a drug overdose because of a change in drug tolerance.
"Once released, these individuals may not realize that their tolerance has diminished and can accidentally overdose," said Mark Pfister, health department interim director.
Interested Lake County jail inmates have to agree they want to be in treatment.
"We're not going to force them. It won't work," Rose said. "This is part of the long-term treatment."
Those who apply receive medical and professional screenings and a comprehensive assessment of their substance abuse issues, including how many times a week the inmate will have to be seen for therapy, said health department spokeswoman Leslie Piotrowski.
If the inmate is determined to be appropriate for the program, he or she will be given a shot by the county's medical provider just before being discharged from the jail. The Vivitrol initiative is not an inpatient program, but treatment continues.
"We believe this approach will help them stay on course with their recovery and reduce their likeliness of going back to jail," Pfister said.
The health department has committed to treating 15 inmates in the next six months, but that will have to be re-evaluated if more apply and are accepted, Piotrowski said.