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Westmoreland

Some Westmoreland County inmates to get anti-addiction drug

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, April 30, 2018, 5:24 p.m.

Westmoreland County Prison inmates can receive one free dose of an anti-addiction drug under a new program scheduled to begin July 1.

Warden John Walton said Monday that inmates who qualify will be administered a dose of Vivitrol shortly before their release. Vivitrol, the brand name of naltrexone, is a non-narcotic injection that blocks a drug user from getting high. Perhaps more than that, the drug blocks the cravings that lead to so many relapses.

“This will be voluntary,” Walton told members of the county's prison board.

The eight-week program will be open to 10 inmates at a time who are serving sentences of at least 90 days in the jail. Inmates must be medically cleared for participation, then agree to complete eight group and two one-on-one counseling sessions before they receive the Vivitrol dose.

Eligibility will be determined by jail counselors and the facility's medical staff. The dosage will be injected days before an inmate is set to be released.

Alkermes Inc., the maker of Vivitrol, will donate the initial dose, Walton said.

A single dose of Vivitrol could cost as much as $1,200, said Liz Comer, director of clinical and case management services for the Westmoreland County Drug and Alcohol Commission.

Tim Phillips, executive director of the county's drug task force, said the program could make a difference in curbing the opioid epidemic plaguing the county.

“It's about time,” Phillips said. “Everybody should be offered it. We should do whatever we can do to save lives.”

Once an inmate in the program is released, they will have to take a Vivitrol dose once a month and continue counseling.

The drug and alcohol commission will cover the cost of a second dose for inmates, as well as pay for counseling services in the jail and additional sessions for participants once they are released.

“This is something we've wanted to do for a long time,” Comer said.

For more than a decade, county leaders have struggled to find solutions for the opioid epidemic, which caused 838 overdose deaths from 2006-17 and strained government services, including those at the jail.

Walton said about 66 percent of all new inmates who enter the jail require drug detoxification services. About 150 new inmates last month had addiction issues, Walton said.

County commissioners said taxpayers will pay nothing for the Vivitrol program.

“This is an available option we are trying. If we can help a couple of inmates get their life on track, it will be worth it,” said Commissioner Gina Cerilli.

Commissioner Ted Kopas said Vivitrol is a piece of the county's ongoing efforts to slow the drug epidemic and could reduce the number of addicted inmates who continually return to jail.

“There is not a single solution to this problem, but it is an important start. We have to try to keep people from coming back to our jail and to save lives,” Kopas said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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