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Another chance: Inmate drug program shows promise in the fight against opioid addiction in Indiana

Posted at 1:36 AM, Apr 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-04 08:34:57-04

HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. -- It’s no secret that opioid addiction is on the rise in Indiana, and Hancock County is joining the battle against the drug by offering inmates a new form of treatment that’s seen success in other parts of the state.

Inmates in Hancock County who are on work-release or the probation department’s “heroin-protocol” are eligible for the program, which gives them a monthly shot of Vivitrol and enrollment in a treatment program.

Vivitrol blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, preventing the user from getting high or overdosing on any opioid drug.

The state’s “Recovery Works” program will be helping to fund the treatments for inmates who qualify, allowing them to receive at least two injections at no cost. The program may also help them cover the cost of treatment for as long as they stay on track.

Hancock County Court Treatment Specialist Amy Ikerd calls the treatment a “safety net,” but not a cure. She said those that take Vivitrol will still have to work towards kicking their addiction through treatment, counseling and support meetings.

“The reason why treatment is so important is that we’re still dealing with addiction and addiction is a disease,” said Ikerd. “There is no cure this is just a fantastic tool.”

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For 30 days, the drug plugs up the opioid receptors in the brain, making it so that a person can’t get high off of opioids or overdose from the drugs, according to Ikerd.

Ikerd said what makes Vivitrol so much more promising than other drug treatments is that there isn’t any chance of addiction because there’s no narcotic element to the drug.

“It is solely a blocker. It’s not a blocker and a replacement like suboxone, so there’s no potential to get high,” said Ikerd. “What I hear from clients is that it reduces cravings, which helps them engage in treatment.”  

Health officials recommend that patients stay on the treatment for up to a year, but Ikerd said they would judge the number of shots each inmate receives based on their progress in the program.

In Indiana, the number of opioid-related deaths has nearly doubled in the past several years from just under 300 in 2010 to over 500 in 2015, the latest year the Indiana State Department of Health has data for. 


YEAR Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Any Opioid
2010 283
2011 347
2012 361
2013 350
2014 452
2015 529


According to the ISDH, poisoning is the leading cause of deaths in Indiana, and drugs are the cause of nearly 90 percent of those deaths.

Nationally, 61 percent of all overdose deaths in 2014 involved a type of opioid, many of them heroin, according to the ISDH, and almost 80 percent of those deaths were unintentional.

Men are also more than 1.5 times more likely to overdose than women.

Joshua Roberts has been in the Hancock County jail for the past five months. He's one of 10 inmates who will be taking part in the first wave of the new program.

“I was a heroin user every day,” said Roberts. “(Vivitrol) could be a game-changer. I hope it’s a game-changer.”

Roberts is serving time for auto theft after he was caught by police trying to steal a car. He said that was just one of the many ways he funded his heroin addiction.

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“Lost my daughter because of it,” said Roberts. “All my relationships and my jobs. It ruined my life pretty good.”

Roberts said he’s excited to try the new program, and he’s hoping it will help him break his habit and eventually get his little girl back.

“I love her, and I miss her,” said Roberts. “(I want her to know) I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again.”

Hancock County isn’t the first to offer the program. Boone and Madison counties both began offering it to inmates last year and have reported positive numbers.  

Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said they’ve had a success rate of more than 60 percent since they began the program last February, a higher rate than any of the alternative programs they offer. 

Vivitrol is available through health care providers, but while insurance and credits can cover much of the cost, it wholesales for roughly $1,300, so the out-of-pocket costs vary depending on your coverage.

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