Walton County Sheriff's Office helps inmates fight addiction

WALTON COUTNY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A drug designed to help those struggling with addiction is now available to inmates at one area jail, as Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson launches a new pilot program that offers treatment to those who want help.

Eleven people die every day in the state of Florida from opioids according to Walton County Sheriff's officials.

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any family in your viewing area, really in this country that has not been personally affected by addiction issues. This is very real to all of us, it's not arbitrary or capricious," said Sheriff Adkinson. "We know the impact these have on families, whether that is your brother, son, wife, father, mother."

Now, thanks to a grant initiated by Florida Governor Rick Scott, the Walton County Sheriff's office and jail now have money to kick-start a new program that targets opioid addiction.

The program works in two parts. The first is through an injected medication called VIVITROL.

"I think the opportunity to provide VIVTROL, which is a medication that essentially takes away the craving of opioids to inmates, [and] gives them a real chance at succeeding upon their release," said Sheriff Adkinson.

"VIVITROL is a preparation of Naltrexone, which is an opioid-blocking medication," said Acting Medical Director at Chautauqua Healthcare Services, Paul Phillips. "The medication works in several different manners. One is that it is thought to block the pleasure sensors that are aroused by opioids. Another is that it is thought to reduce the craving people get to use medication as well."

VIVITROL is designed to help with both opioid and alcohol addictions.

"It is specially formulated, though, by putting the active ingredients on microspheres so that it can be injected once a month and have its beneficial effects for an entire month between injections," said Phillips.

The second part of the treatment program is through counseling.

"The injection holds them and keeps the craving away and our treatment teaches them what a trigger is. What makes them go there and we're able to hold that off until they get taught, until they know what's going on," said Chief Executive officer for Chautauqua Healthcare Services, Rachel Gillis.

"So I want to be clear, this is not just about VIVITROL. It's not just about providing this non-opioid drug to make an effect. It's also about therapy, it's about family support systems, it's about job training, mental health counseling. It's a holistic approach to breaking the cycle," Sheriff Adkinson explained.

"Mental health, in general, is becoming more wellness-focused and to be wellness-focused you want to educate people about and help them attain new skills to help with life in general. This is a very important tool for part of our population who cannot control alcohol or opioid addiction," said Phillips.

While officials say the treatment can be very effective, it isn't cheap.

"They are roughly a $1,000 a shot, but if you think about it, to the daily cost in most Florida jails, it's about $75 a day to hold an inmate, so it's about two weeks. So [for] the cost of incarcerating someone two weeks, we can give them an opportunity to again break the cycle," said Sheriff Adkinson.

Although the people we talked to say this program isn't foolproof. Sheriff Adkinson said if this program can help one person who suffers from addiction, then it's worth it.

"If your situation is 'I don't want to change,' then this isn't going to help, you'll simply overcome the effects of the drug. However, those who want to make a significant change in their life, this gives them that hope to do something different," said Sheriff Adkinson.

"I have extreme regard for someone who can get sober and stay clean and sober. It's such a difficult thing and we're going to be able to offer that to people who have not been able to do that ever," said Gillis.

"I am prepared to try anything at this point to see if it works and I think there are some really good indicators that we could have success with this," Sheriff Adkinson added.

The pilot program will provide injections to qualified inmates for up to six months while they're in jail.