Vermont Launching Vivitrol Pilot Program For Departing Inmates

By McCarton Ackerman 01/26/16

Vivitrol is seen by some treatment professionals as a better option than methadone or Suboxone.

Gov. Peter Shumlin

Vermont is gearing up to launch a pilot program this month that will offer opioid addiction treatment Vivitrol to departing inmates at a correctional facility.

The pilot program at the Marble Valley Correctional Center in Rutland is being funded as part of a three-year, $3 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). If the program proves to be a success, Vermont will then expand it to all seven of the state’s prisons, which could help as many as 350 inmates.

Vivitrol is an injection that stops cravings by blocking opioid receptors in the body to prevent users from getting high. It’s viewed by many health professionals as a more attractive option to treating opioid addiction than methadone or Suboxone because there isn’t a black market for it and there are no addictive components.

"I actually tried ... to get high because I was having a hard time and the shot stopped it,” said Vermont resident Sean Lyman, who has spent time in jail due to his heroin addiction. "At the time, I was very angry that I didn't get high. But the next day, I was so thankful ... and I haven't even thought about sticking a needle in my arm since then."

More than 100 jails and prisons across the country give Vivitrol to departing inmates. Although each injection can cost up to $1,000, patients are typically able to have most or all of the costs for it covered by Medicaid or health insurance.

Vermont has been focusing on combating its ongoing opiate addiction problem ever since Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State speech in January 2014 to addressing the issue. He outlined several initiatives including giving $200,000 to allow treatment centers to increase staff and reduce waiting lists, and giving $760,000 in 2015 to allow courts to help assess which drug offenders would benefit from treatment over prison. Shumlin also pointed out that a week of treatment at a state-financed facility costs $123, compared  to $1,120 per week to incarcerate them.

From 2000 to 2012, Vermont experienced a staggering 770% increase of people in treatment for opioid addictions. It also led to a jump in drug-fueled crimes, with nearly 80% of inmates in the state being held on drug-related charges.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.