Vermont Tests Pilot Program To Treat Opiate Addiction In Former Inmates

By May Wilkerson 12/09/15

Gov. Peter Shumlin is proving once again that he's on the forefront of treating addiction at the state level.

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Vermont is testing out a groundbreaking new pilot program to help reduce opiate addiction in the state. Last week, Governor Peter Shumlin announced the launch of the program, which will offer naltrexone, a monthly injection that blocks the effects of opiates, to inmates recently released from a state prison.

Unlike commonly used “maintenance” medications, like methadone or buprenorphine, naltrexone is not an opioid substitute. Rather, it prevents an opiate user from feeling “high” if they inject heroin or take opiate drugs.

"Naltrexone is especially promising for treating people coming out of our correctional system, who may be motivated to stay clean but are struggling," said Shumlin. "Because of the way naltrexone works to block the 'high' from using opioid drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers, this new treatment can help recovering addicts avoid a relapse."

Naltrexone has been around for some time in the form of a daily pill that has often been used to treat alcoholism. But Vivitrol, the injection form of the drug, is relatively new. Unlike other forms of opiate addiction treatment, naltrexone requires that those who take it have gone through complete detox—an uncomfortable and often painful process that many opioid addicts may try to avoid. This is why the program is targeting former inmates who would have already gone through detox upon their release.

The prison population is also especially vulnerable to addiction and relapse. An estimated 70% of offenders leaving Vermont correctional facilities have been impacted by opiate use, according to Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard said.

Unlike other treatment options, naltrexone is unlikely to be misused or sold on the black market, since it does not contain opiates. “It’s non-divertable, you don’t get high on it, it’s not an opiate alternative, it’s an opiate blocker,” said Secretary of Human Services, Hal Cohen.

The pilot program, which will include 350 participants, is funded by a $3 million federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In the coming months, Shumlin hopes that the program will expand to other parts of the state. Participants will also receive addiction recovery counseling and care management services.

Vermont has expanded its treatment options for opiate addiction ever since Shumlin made addiction the focus of his state of the state address two years ago, the governor said on Tuesday. As a result, there are approximately 1,000 more Vermonters in treatment now than there were in January 2014.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.