Two Florida Counties Exploring Heroin Treatment for Inmates

Orange and Duval Counties in Florida are now testing programs that aim to help inmates who suffer from a heroin addiction achieve sobriety.

The programs offer comprehensive addiction treatment during and after incarceration. Inmates receive treatment in jail, continued treatment and therapy after release and a monthly injection of Vivitrol, a medication that prevents the pleasurable effects of heroin and other opioids.

“Evidence is growing that shows programs like these work dramatically well when they’re done right,” said Emily Feinstein, director of health, law and policy at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Vivitrol is a very effective way to reduce the risks of heroin abuse among former users, but is not widely available. The medication is effective for up to 30 days, but can cost as much as $1000 per shot, deterring many of those who would benefit from the drug.

Vivitrol’s maker, Alkermes, is providing the programs with the drug at significant discount.

The jail program was created on the recommendation of the Orange County Heroin Task Force last year. Orange County is using state funds to pay for the project. At Orange County Jail, 144 inmates volunteered to participate in the treatment program.

Inmates who wish to participate must first complete heroin detox and demonstrate a willingness to remain sober in order to begin Vivitrol treatment.

More than a dozen states offer similar programs to inmates, including California, Ohio and New York.

A Massachusetts jail that ran a similar program incorporating Vivitrol treatment reported a recidivism rate of 9 percent among participants. Comparatively, the national rearrest rate for drug offenders within five years of release is 77 percent, according to federal statistics.

Focusing on Rehabilitation

The pilot programs come at a time when substance abuse treatment advocates are calling for society to change the way it views drug addiction. A growing number of programs are focusing on rehabilitation instead of punishment.

Many drug offenders return to abusing drugs and ultimately commit more crimes in the community upon release. By treating drug addiction during and after incarceration, they have a higher chance of living a drug- and crime-free life.

“One thing we realize about local jails — and it’s particularly true here in Orange County — the individuals in our custody are most probably going to come back into our community at some point,” said Cornita Riley, Orange County’s chief of corrections.

Treatment with Vivitrol is an effective way to reduce the risks of heroin abuse among former users, but it is not widely available. While the medication negates the effects of heroin and opioids for up to 30 days, it can cost as much as $1,000 per shot, deterring many of those who would benefit from its use.

Alkermes, Vivitrol’s manufacturer, is providing the drug to the Florida programs at a significant discount.

Orange County: Florida’s Heroin Ground Zero

Heroin abuse is a serious issue in Central Florida, and Orange County is facing higher levels of heroin abuse than anywhere else in the state. In 2014, the county saw 75 heroin-related deaths. In 2015, there were 85 deaths from heroin abuse in Orange County, the highest number of any county in Florida.

Heroin-related arrests have also skyrocketed in Orange County. There were fewer than 100 heroin-related arrests in 2010; in 2015, there were more than 800.

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