The Anoka County Sheriff’s Office is taking extra steps to help stop drug addiction and accidental overdose deaths.
Sheriff James Stuart announced last week his office will now be implementing the Vivitrol Fresh Start Program in Anoka County’s correctional facilities.
“We want to stop the revolving door,” Stuart said.
With drug addiction fueling criminal activity, many drug-users end up right back in jail, over and over again.
He believes treating addiction will help stop that revolving door.
The Vivitrol Fresh Start Program is a partnership between the drug’s maker, Alkermes, Anoka County Correctional Health and Nystrom and Associates.
Inmates addicted to heroin or prescription pain killers can now voluntarily receive the prescription drug Vivitrol. The drug has been shown to lessen cravings for opioids and acts as an opioid blocker, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The time-release doses last about a month and are designed to be used in conjunction with chemical dependency treatment.
Stuart learned about a similar program at a conference last year and charged his staff with investigating.
Anoka will be the first county in Minnesota to implement the initiative.
While Stuart calls it a pilot project, he said the Sheriff’s Office is moving full steam ahead and hopes to be a model for other jurisdictions.
The program will be offered to every inmate in Anoka County’s correctional facilities. And if they come in high, unable to make a clear decision, they will be asked again.
Fifty percent of inmates across the country meet the definition of a drug addict, Stuart said.
Nystrom and Associates CEO Brian Nystrom said in situations when the Vivitrol is paired with ongoing therapy, success rates are in the range of 90 percent after one year.
He sees the Fresh Start program as having an “ultimately stabilizing effect in our community.”
The monthly injections go along with 24 weeks of intensive, outpatient therapy. After that, patients can join a 24-week alumni group for no charge.
“Vivitrol is just one piece of the puzzle,” Nystrom said.
Addicts still need to learn coping, refusal skills and relapse prevention skills, he said.
Without access to drugs, inmates typically detox while they are incarcerated. Then on or just before their release date, they have the option of receiving the Vivitrol injection.
“The goal is a good hand-off,” said Lt. David Tedrow of Anoka County Corrections. Inmates leave with counseling appointments already scheduled.
The cost for one shot at most area pharmacies is more than $1,300.
The pharmaceutical company will provide the first injection free of charge.
After the initial injection, payment for prescriptions as well as chemical dependency treatment will come from either private health insurance or social services.
After talking with others who have experience with the Fresh Start Program, Stuart said the Sheriff’s Office is learning that the program delivers the results it promises.
Stuart said he has seen addicts “literally frantic” to find drugs the minute they are released from jail. This makes them vulnerable to overdose and death.
“We’ve seen loss of jobs, lifestyles, families and all too often loss of life,” Stuart said.
In 2016, there were 13 heroin-related deaths in Anoka County.
Prior to this most recent initiative, the Sheriff’s Office has had success with prescription take-backs across the county as well as police work done by the Drug Task Force, a multi-agency collaborative.
ABC Newspapers managing editor Mandy Froemming can be reached at [email protected]