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 to 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, and added that 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 a 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 has a market rate of $1,300 per-shot. Hellman said inmates sign up for Medicaid to help offset the cost. The first shot is administered by ADC and donated by the manufacturer.
According to AHCCCS spokeswoman, Heidi Capriotti, program participants will be identified for substance abuse disorders and AHCCCS eligibility.
“ADC will track the inmates for 12 months to monitor success and ultimately reduce recidivism,” Capriotti said.
“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 said.
Hellman said she believes as long as the inmate continues, and finishes, the program, they will ultimately be able to lead a stable 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,” Hellman said.
The first inmate participating in this program has already been administered Vivitrol and was scheduled to be released on Friday.
“Gov. Ducey and state agencies are committed to reducing recidivism among the state inmate population,” said ADC spokesman Andrew Wilder. “We hope this program will help do that.”
The aim of this program is to help inmates stay clean and fight their drug addictions upon their release to society, Wilder added. This is a pilot program ADC is doing. They will select 100 inmates, and only two have been picked so far.
“I can’t tell you when an inmate from Kingman will be selected, but they’ll certainly be eligible,” Wilder said.
– Daily Miner reporter Aaron Ricca contributed to this report.
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