County officials praise heroin addiction program

Online Staff Report

A pilot program that uses medication to address heroin and other opiate addiction is showing promising results for defendants in the Winnebago County Adult Drug Court program, according to court officials.

The program helps participants avoid relapse, improve their engagement in treatment, and get on the path to maintaining long-term abstinence and recovery.

Since January, eligible defendants who are addicted to heroin have been offered the option to receive Vivitrol, a medication which reduces cravings and blocks the effects of opiates. Participants who consent to the voluntary program requirements participate in an intensive regimen of counseling and meetings, and also receive a monthly, extended-release injection of Vivitrol, in addition to the other structured requirements of the Winnebago County Drug Court.

To date, 18 participants are involved in the program, and there has been a marked improvement in each participant’s progress, even at this early stage.

“Heroin and opiate use in our community is incredibly destructive and is flooding our criminal justice system with people who are committing crimes because of their addiction to this category of drugs,”said Judge Janet R. Holmgren, presiding judge of Juvenile and Problem-Solving Courts for the 17th Judicial Circuit Court. “Having the opportunity to offer Vivitrol to defendants in Drug Court to suppress their urge to use heroin and opiates and to help them focus on changing their ways of thinking and their behaviors through intensive treatment and supports is already resulting in people moving forward in their path to recovery.

“The benefits flow not only to the individuals who are able to reclaim their lives but to the community where they will not be committing new crimes to fund their addiction.”

Sponsored by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the pilot program represents a collaboration among the IDHS Department of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (DASA), the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, Winnebago County, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), the University of Illinois College of Medicine, and Rosecrance. Through this initiative, eligible participants complete their opiate withdrawal while detained in jail, receiving Vivitrol prior to release. The individuals then proceed with traditional programming through the Winnebago County Drug Court, including substance use outpatient treatment services at Rosecrance and case management by TASC, while continuing to receive Vivitrol as long as clinically appropriate.

“Studies have shown Vivitrol to be successful in treating opiate addiction. However, it is a very expensive medication, especially for those without insurance coverage,” said Theodora Binion, director of the IDHS Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “IDHS funding for this pilot program will provide greater access to this medication, which holds promise in averting costs associated with multiple admissions to costly acute care hospital detox programs.”

Bridget Keiley, administrator of TASC services, added: “Heroin has been devastating to our community, and medications that prevent overdose and relapse offer a valuable part of the solution,” added Bridget Kiely, administrator of TASC services in Winnebago County. “When it comes to issues as complex as addiction, there is no magic answer. But we do know from both experience and research that medications, used along with clinical therapies, can make a big difference in reducing relapse. To date, not one of our clients in this program has overdosed or has been hospitalized.”

Intended as part of a comprehensive management program that includes psychosocial support, Vivitrol is a monthly extended-release injectable formulation of naltrexone. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for prevention of relapse to opioid dependence following detoxification. Vivitrol is not a substitute for opioids; it is a medication that works to block opioids. It is a non-narcotic and non-addictive treatment option.

“We are very grateful to everyone involved in helping the Winnebago County Drug Court pilot this program in Illinois. With the success that we have seen to date from those currently participating, we hope that it will be possible to keep it is a permanent component of the Winnebago County Drug Court program and that other programs will be able to establish successful programs in their communities,” Holmgren said.


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