US Prisons Using Vivitrol to Curb Post-Release Opioid Addiction among Inmates

US Prisons Using Vivitrol to Curb Post-Release Opioid Addiction among Inmates

Addiction and incarceration have been closely linked for decades. One of the primary critics of this country’s current drug laws is that they disproportionately punish non-violent offenders, needlessly crowding the prison system and tearing families apart. Looking at the current incarceration rates in US prisons, it’s hard to disagree with this assessment. It’s also true that prisons, themselves, can be incubators for addiction. Most recently there was a controversy regarding the smuggling and abuse of Suboxone in American prisons, proving once again that even anti-opioid drugs can be diverted and abused. A pilot program that provides Vivitrol injections to addicted inmates may offer medication-assisted treatment with diminished opportunity for diversion.

Vivitrol shots last for four week and are used to block the effects of opioid medication, including pain relief or feelings of well-being that can lead to opioid abuse. Vivitrol is used as part of a treatment program for drug or alcohol dependence. There have been remarkably encouraging signs regarding the medication’s efficacy in relapse prevention, with some studies claiming that it cuts relapse by nearly half. Opponents of the pilot program have many concerns, including its price tag. Vivitrol shots are $1,000 per injection, however proponents say Vivitrol could save money compared with the cost of locking up a drug offender.

Vivitrol’s slow-acting formula and infrequent dosages make it a viable alternative to other, more easily abused drugs like buprenorphine and methadone. The drug won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 for the treatment of alcoholism and in 2010 for relapse prevention in opioid addiction patients. Vivitrol is not meant to replace proven and established elements of treatment like detox or counseling; but rather occur as part of patients’ ongoing post-treatment recovery. Eligibility is determined by patients’ physicians and treatment professionals.

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