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Arizona inmates being offered drug to combat opioid addiction

FILE - This Oct. 19, 2016, file photo shows the packaging of Vivitrol at an addiction treatment center in Joliet, Ill. (AP Photo/Carla K. Johnson, File)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Corrections has begun using an anti-addiction drug to help inmates kick their opioid addictions for good.

“It’s all about recovery, reentry and rehabilitation,” Karen Hellman, the director of inmate programs and reentry, said.

“It’s aligned really well with two of the Gov. (Doug Ducey)’s really big initiatives, which are to reduce recidivism and to address the opioid crisis and they both crossover, so this particular program addresses both of those issues at the same time.”

Hellman said the drug, Vivitrol, is a once-a-month injection given to newly released inmates will help them overcome the cravings for opioids. The drug is administered as part of a new program where inmates undergo counseling to readjust to life on the outside.

“We’re hoping to serve, over the next two years, 100 inmates in this program,” Hellman said. “Then they’re connected with a community provider and they’re followed up in the community with that provider to continue to get the shot and also to go to counseling.”

Hellman said the drug helps, but keeping track of people undergoing treatment is crucial.

“Follow up is a huge component of this. This is all about them getting their life on track and remaining crime-free, drug-free, pro-social, good citizens for the rest of their life.”

Hellman said the program was developed and maintained through a multi-agency partnership.

“We have ADC, AHCCCS, and the local Mercy Maricopa involved in this because we needed all three entities to make sure that the handoff into the community was a good solid handoff so the released inmate will continue in the program, attending their counseling sessions and continue to get their injections.”

For Hellman, the use of an drug is new ground, one she is hoping will be key in helping the released inmates hold their own against addiction.

“That shot is in their system for 30 days,” she said. “It gives the addict the time to think through that decision to perhaps pick up and use again and for them to get to the point where they make the choice ‘OK, I’m not going to use again.'”

Vivitrol costs $1,300. Hellman said inmates sign up for Medicaid to help offset the cost.

“We pre-enroll them in AHCCCS prior to release, then the day that they’re released, their AHCCCS eligibility kicks in and then, as long as they remain on AHCCCS, AHCCCS will cover the cost of the shot for them, they may have a small co-pay, but it cover the bulk of the cost as long as they’re on AHCCCS.”

Hellman believes as long as the inmate continues and finishes the program, they will ultimately be able to lead a stabile life.

“Ideally, through the combination of the medicated assisted treatment, Vivitrol, and the actual counseling, they will get to the point where they will no longer need the injection, and they will have the tools and abilities to stay drug-free for the rest of their life.”

The first inmate participating in this program has already been administered Vivitrol and was scheduled to be released on Friday.

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