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Westmoreland County jail effort worth a shot

| Sunday, May 13, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

We support an upcoming program in which eligible inmates leaving the Westmoreland County Prison can receive one free dose of an anti-addiction drug.

For more than a decade, county leaders have struggled to find solutions for the opioid epidemic, which caused 838 overdose deaths from 2006-17.

The hope is that it can be one more tool to keep certain inmates from returning to jail, helping themselves and society.

Warden John Walton said that participating inmates will get a dose of Vivitrol in the days before their release. Vivitrol, trade name for 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.

The eight-week, voluntary program will begin in July. It will be open to 10 inmates at a time who are serving jail sentences of at least 90 days.

Jail counselors and medical staff will determine eligibility. Participating inmates must agree to complete 10 counseling sessions before they receive the Vivitrol dose — whose effect lasts a month.

The drug's maker, Alkermes Inc., will donate the initial dose, which can cost up to $1,200.

Once released from the program, the inmate will have to take a Vivitrol dose every month and continue counseling. The Westmoreland County Drug and Alcohol Commission will cover the cost of the second dose, as well as pay for counseling in the jail and after participants are released. County officials said taxpayers will pay nothing for the Vivitrol program.

The program is important because those released from jail are extremely susceptible to overdosing. Their tolerance level drops while in jail. The fact that it only has to be taken once a month decreases the chances of relapse.

Vivitrol isn't a new drug, and such programs for inmates leaving a county jail aren't new, either.Indiana County, to name one, has had it for several years.

Walton said 66 percent of new jail inmates require drug detoxification. Last month, about 150 new inmates had addiction issues. Those figures are a clear indication that more needs to be done.

We wish the county well in its efforts to give struggling drug users a chance to kick the habit and stay out of jail in the process.

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