Treating opioid addiction in correctional facilities

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TALLAHASEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Sixteen people die each day in Florida from opioids.

Photo: OIGatHHS / youtube

To combat the problem, the state has been increasing funding for drug assisted treatments for addicted prisoners. Treatments are aimed at keeping addicts out of prison and giving them a second shot at life.

Opioid addicts often turn to crime to support their habit. Chief Kimberley Petersen estimates eight out ten prisoners are addicted.

"It may not be a charge they currently have, but they're dealing or they're using some some type of illegal drug" said Petersen.

One new method being used by jails and prisons to combat the problem is a drug called Vivitrol.

Patrick Lane from the DISC Village Vivitrol Program said, "It's strictly an opioid blocker. It reduces cravings and also if you use you don't get high because the medication itself has a higher affinity to your opioid receptor."

Taxpayers are spending more than $1,600 per month to keep someone in prison. Treating that same person with the drug costs just $900 every month, which could keep them clean and out of the system.

To receive treatment, addicts also have to agree to receive counseling. Former addict turned advocate Freda King says, although Vivitrol can help an addict through the first stages of getting off opioids, it's the counseling that will help them stay clean.

"When my son was killed in Afghanistan. I was ten years sober. If I didn't still work the plan that was implemented in 2000 I could have relapsed," King said.

While the Vivitrol program is just getting started in the state capital, Chief Petersen is hoping other facilities around the state will follow the lead of those looking for alternative ways to combat the crisis.

"You know, we're no longer just throwing people behind bars and locking the doors and walking away from them. We're trying to help them to take the next step in the right direction to better themselves," Petersen said.

State funding for drug assisted treatment of opioid addicts got a $3 million boost this past session making it possible for more correctional facilities to implement similar programs.