State program offers shot to help inmates curb cravings for heroin & alcohol

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The state is expanding a program to help inmates stay clean from alcohol and heroin. The program is called medication assisted Treatment.

Inmates get a series of shots that help block their cravings. The shot is called Vivitrol, and is administered by a doctor.

The first pilot in Pennsylvania history started two years ago, specifically for females returning back to the Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas.

“Half of the recidivism will occur in the first year. So the focus is really figuring out, identifying things that are going to get in the way of people staying out that first year, and obviously addiction, using drugs or alcohol, is one of those," said State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.

Now the program is expanding to 175 male inmates at state correctional facilities. It is also expanding to areas including Allentown, Lehigh, and Erie County.

"The high risk period for someone who is on heroin to overdose is right when they come out from being incarcerated. Either from the jail level, or the prison level, especially at the prison. They have been there at least a year generally. So the level or amount of heroin they were using before they came in, they’re tolerance is down significantly," said Wetzel.

The inmates are given the first shot before they leave prison, and then five shots, once a month after they get out, which are given in combination with drug and alcohol treatment. After that a clinical decision will be made as to whether they need it longer.

This Vivitrol makes them a lot, significantly less likely to do it because even if they use they don’t experience the euphoria from the use. So there’s really no sense in using something if you're not going to get a buzz off of it,” said Wetzel.

The program is funded by a combination of grant money and many of the inmates qualify for Medicaid [or medical assistance].

  • They cannot have Liver Disease
  • They CAN have co-occurring disorders or mental health issues, that is a group they are looking to target also
  • They must have 18- month parole eligibility [with that parole supervision there is a good opportunity to ensure they are being successful. If they relapse, they will be under close scrutiny]
  • Medium or high risk to re offend
  • Have alcohol or heroin dependence
  • Must sign up for the program