Pilot program implemented to address heroin and opioid addiction
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone

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Pilot program implemented to address heroin and opioid addiction


Last week I was joined by Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini and treatment providers to announce a new pilot program as part of the county’s multipronged approach to addressing heroin and opiate use and abuse.  In 2014, there were more than 250 opioid-related deaths in Suffolk County and 493 Narcan saves. 

As we all know, we are experiencing an opioid epidemic in Suffolk County and within our region. Obviously, the real tragedy is in the many families and friends who have lost love ones to this epidemic.    We need to tackle it on all fronts—prevention, treatment and law enforcement—and Suffolk County is engaged in some promising initiatives on all of these fronts. Earlier this year, Tim Sini, assistant deputy county executive for public safety, identified a new treatment model that has great promise to be successful in Suffolk County.

The county, with the support from various private and public stakeholders, has established a pilot program where soon-to-be-released inmates have been identified as candidates to undergo treatment with the FDA-approved drug, Vivitrol, prior to their release.  Vivitrol, extended-release naltrexone, has proven to be effective as an opioid antagonist. Vivitrol assists patients in overcoming opioid addiction by blocking the drugs’ euphoric effects.  In 2010, the FDA approved the use of extended-release naltrexone for the treatment of opioid addiction for individuals 18 years and older.  At the time it was approved, the FDA stated: “This drug approval represents a significant advancement in addiction treatment.”

In addition to the administration of the drug while in jail, inmates must agree, as part of the conditions of their release, to continue to undergo treatment and drug therapy with Suffolk County’s community treatment partners.   

Suffolk County has trained jail medical staff to screen candidates for the pilot program and to administer the drug.  As a requirement of participating in the pilot program, each inmate must view an informational video that will provide information about the new treatment model.  Once selected, an inmate will undergo drug therapy and be administered Vivitrol.  While the administration of this drug can be cost-prohibitive, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug has agreed to provide the drug to Suffolk County at no cost during the pilot phase of the program.  

To date, 43 inmates have viewed the informational video; 21 inmates have expressed an interest in participating in the pilot program;  20 inmates have been screened by mental health professionals; and 13 are in the process of being medically cleared for participation in the program.   When an inmate is finally released, Suffolk County will arrange for them to undergo treatment and continue drug therapy with Suffolk County’s community treatment providers.  As part of the pilot program, Suffolk County developed  protocols and procedures to ensure that we are keeping track of the outcomes for all the participants of the program.  

Studies have shown that people who undergo medicinally assisted treatments, like Vivitrol, have higher rates of success than those who don’t, and this model in particular has proven effective, leading to more days of abstinence, longer stays in treatment, reduced cravings for opioids, and higher rates of recovery.