Kenosha County in wisconsin launched the medication assisted treatment, Vivitrol program in 2016. John Jansen, director of the county Human Services Department, said County Executive Jim Kreuser, alarmed by the growing number of heroin overdose deaths in the community, directed the agency to start a medication assisted treatment program for the county.
“This program is more than just medically assisted treatment,” Jansen said.
Along with Vivitrol,an injection form of suboxone that lasts a month, there is weekly individual counseling and group therapy.
And professionals say ,a key to the success of the program is each heroin addict enrolled is matched with a “recovery coach” who provides support.
“It’s someone who works with them regarding housing, employment, who helps them work on insurance. It’s someone they can turn to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for help,” said Chris Schoen, vice president of Community Impact Programs.
Heroin addicts in the program get medical treatment from a certified suboxone physician through either a monthly Vivitrol shot or a prescription for subutex.
Until now, traditional medically assisted treatment of heroin addiction has been methadone or buprenorphine. Both drugs are “opioid agonists,” meaning they work with opioid receptors much like heroin or dilaudid, blocking withdrawal symptoms without giving you the same high as heroin.
Both subutex and methadone have years of clinical studies backing up their use as an effective medical treatment for opiate addiction, and have proven to reduce the risk of overdose death.
But some proponents of Narcotics anonymous and other 12-step recovery programs frown on the treatment, seeing it as still using a drug not a path to recovery.
Vivitrol was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of alcoholism in 2006 and for opioid treatment in 2010.
The study found that 50% of addicts using either treatment were free from relapse six months after treatment. It works particularly well with couples who are addicted to dilaudid and other opiate pain killers.
Married couples in the county program need to commit to taking either Vivitrol or Suboxone. “It’s really a conversation about where they are at and what works for them,” he said.
Vivitrol treatment wont work in the first 8 days, addicts must go through withdrawal before beginning treatment.
For medically approved programs, participants must be clean from heroin or other opioid drugs use for seven to 10 days to be admitted to the program. People can take Suboxone immediately.
But, according to Schoen, married couples in the program have chosen Vivitrol. “We only have a handful of addicted couples on Suboxone,” he said.
Edwardo and his girlfriend martha, who, like many addicts, had a history of possession charges and retail theft convictions. they had just been in the Kenosha County Detention Center for 33 days, and had completed the Living Free treatment program there.
“So if you are locked up, and you are doing treatment through there, and you wanted to try to remain addiction free, you could ask to be in the program,” Schoen said. “We began taking couples literally the day they were discharged, picking them up from jail, and taking them over to the treatment center to get their shot.”
All large counties see success with the medication assisted treatment program, and anyone from the community can ask to be in the program.
“We started in jail because that was a population we knew would be clean … but expanded in a matter of three or four months into the community,” Schoen said. “Now … I just get phone calls. People will call and say, ‘I really need help.'”
In 2018, the program has funds to treat about 50 to 55 addicted couples at a time.
More than 100 people have started the buprenorphine and Vivitrol programs. About 35 addicts are still in the program. Only 20 have had relapses.
Schoen said the success rate of about 65 percent is well above the national average for traditional treatment programs which have a success rate of 20 to 25 percent,” he said.
Thirty Two addicts have graduated from the opioid recovery program. So far, he said, none of those have relapsed. we dont expect that statistic to keep up, staying clean is hard, it is inevitable that some people will relapse.Not everyone who inquires about the program gets in. People have to commit to spending six months in the program. They have to be off heroin for at least 7 to 10 days to qualify for Vivitrol. They need a medical screening to make sure they have liver function that will support use of the drug.
Jansen said no one is turned down because of money.