A pilot program offered by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office that allows opioid-addicted inmates a chance to receive a relapse-prevention drug upon their release from jail would be the first of its kind in the state.
The Tulsa County jail will be the first in Oklahoma to provide Vivitrol, an FDA-approved drug meant to curb urges and inhibit the effects of opioid use.
“We are in the midst of a drug and mental health crisis,” Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado said. “Our jails are no exception. A good portion of our nonviolent crimes are committed by people suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues. This is just another piece in the overall puzzle of combating substance abuse.”
In similar programs across the nation, the drug has allowed opioid users to get a head start in treatment by addressing the desire that often comes upon release from incarceration, Regalado said.
Dr. William Cooper, chief medical officer of the jail’s medical partner and vendor Turnkey Health, explained Vivitrol is an extended-release form of naltrexone, which blocks the brain’s opioid receptors and reduces the euphoric effects of opioid abuse, as well as the sedative effects of alcohol abuse.
Inmates who require treatment for withdrawal beyond the jail’s detox program will be considered candidates for the program, Cooper said, barring pregnant women and inmates who are sentenced to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Candidates who are willing to participate in the program are expected to undergo lab tests and interviews with providers to determine who will receive the injections, Cooper said.
The injections cost about $1,000 each, and Cooper said he currently estimates 10 to 15 inmates will be approved for the program each month.
Regalado acknowledged funding for the program might change, but for now it should be possible with “little or no impact” to taxpayers, thanks to partnerships with the makers of Vivitrol, Turnkey Health, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and the Center of Therapeutic Intervention, along with the efforts of a number of community advocates and state legislators.
Regalado said the state’s $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma is also a potential resource.
Cooper said selected inmates will receive their first injection within seven days upon discharge and will schedule a follow-up appointment with a Turnkey community coordinator thereafter. Each injection’s drug release spans about four weeks.
Cooper said the drug is only one part of the medication-assisted treatment program, and participants will receive counseling and house behavioral therapy from organizations outside the jail.
Participants who wind up incarcerated again will be allowed to continue the program as long as they’ve been compliant with terms while outside, he said.
Cooper said Vivitrol was chosen over other addiction-treatment drugs such as Suboxone or Methadone because unlike them, it does not contain narcotics, which can put a target on a patient’s back.
Regalado said officials will continue to explore other options while the pilot program develops.
“It’s a good beginning,” Cooper said.
David Parker, the administrator of the jail, which is also known as the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, said the program has been in the works for almost a year.
Parker said he admired Regalado’s proactivity and willingness to jump on an opportunity that could work to the advantage of Tulsa County residents.
Undersheriff George Brown echoed Parker’s sentiments.
“If we have the opportunity to help somebody,” Brown said, “why not take it?”