Officials hope a new program will put men and women being released from jail on the path to recovery instead of returning to their opioid addictions.
If it works, the program could save lives and reduce crime committed by those trying to support their addictions.
Hopes are high the new approach will at least keep people from returning to jail, said Carlo Nevicosi, deputy director of Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services.
The state of Wisconsin last week announced grants to Walworth, Rock and 14 other counties to pay for injections of Vivitrol for inmates.
Vivitrol blocks brain receptors so heroin, opioid painkillers and related drugs have no effect; users won’t feel the euphoria they normally get, Nevicosi said.
In both Rock and Walworth counties, inmates will get the injection before leaving jail in hopes it will give them time to set up a treatment program so they can stay sober.
Walworth County will start a week before the inmates are released, giving them daily doses of Naltrexone, an oral version of Vivitrol, to make sure they don’t have bad reactions and then giving them Vivitrol injections as they leave the jail. Injections last about a month.
In the past, inmates could cross the street from the Walworth County Jail to the county human services department and make an appointment to get help, but that appointment could be weeks later, and by then, many would be back to taking drugs.
“You end up losing them,” Nevicosi said.
It’s common to hear of people who get out of jail and use the same amount of heroin they used to take, only to find that their bodies can’t tolerate it anymore, and they overdose.
A National Institute of Health study found people coming out of incarceration are three to eight times more likely to die from an overdose than those using on the outside, said Amanda Lake, outpatient program manager at Rock County Human Services.
Costs are high for the treatment drugs, about $1,300 per person, Nevicosi said. Walworth County hopes to treat about 40 inmates, Rock County about 25.
The state granted Walworth County $62,000, Rock County $71,474. The money is intended to cover seven months, ending in June.
Both counties already have a social worker in each jail to work with inmates, a program requirement.
Walworth County has seen a positive response from inmates so far, Nevicosi said.
“I think we’re going to have to find a way to continue this (after funding runs out in June),” Nevicosi said.
Vivitrol is not addictive. Lake said people might continue using it for years, and insurance will pay for it, but people lose their insurance in jail, and getting it reinstated can take time. This program bridges that gap.
Nevicosi said he hopes the timeout from heroin or other opioids will give the former inmates the chance to see that life is worth living without those drugs.
Rock County still has too few medical providers in Rock County who offer Vivitrol, in part because some mistakenly think it’s difficult to manage, Lake said, so a challenge going forward is to build a system that can handle the need.
Lake gave a shout-out to those working to recover from their addictions: “I want to encourage them and say recovery is possible, and we’re doing all we can in this county. … I’m very proud of the people I work with every day who are fighting hard to do this work.”
Lake noted there were 39 fatal overdoses in Rock County in 2016.
“Every live saved, that’s a success in our book,” she said.