2019-08-22 ne-opioidjail p1

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado announces the launch of a pilot program aimed at helping opioid-addicted inmates stay opioid-free in the time between their release and entry into support programs. The program began Monday. Joining him are Tulsa County Jail Administrator David Parker (left), Tulsa County Undersheriff George Brown and Turnkey Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Cooper. Kelsy Schlotthauer/Tulsa World

To a lot of people who aren’t addicted to opioids, the promise of Vivitrol sounds exactly right.

This week, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado announced a program to treat 10 to 15 inmates a month with the drug, which blocks the brain’s opioid receptors and reduces the euphoric effects of opioids and the sedative effects of alcohol.

Inmates who require treatment for withdrawal beyond the jail’s detox program will be considered candidates for the program. Program participants are expected to undergo lab tests and interviews with providers to determine who will receive the injections.

From the outside, Vivitrol seems like the solution to the horrible problem of opioid addition. If you can inject a person with a drug that prevents them from getting high for a month at a time, surely they can break their addiction and learn to live a drug-free life.

From the addict’s perspective, there may be a missing piece. Many opioid addictions are driven by real physical pain. Take away opioids’ ability to relieve that pain and the underlying problem comes back, augmented by the agony of drug withdrawal. If the addict relapses, there’s a danger of overdose.

We don’t doubt that for some addicts who are highly motivated to break their habit and are able to rely on strong support networks, Vivitrol can be an effective help, but we don’t see it as a silver bullet.

Although it has been marketed to policymakers aggressively, there are still strong voices that methadone or buprenorphine therapies are a better path. Those drugs can help addicts deal with withdrawal symptoms. The sheriff’s office says it rejected those options because they substitute one narcotic for another and can make a target of the patient.

We salute the sheriff’s office for trying to make a difference in the lives of people who are addicted to drugs. At great expense, we’ve tried incarceration as a solution. It didn’t work and left us a whole lot poorer. Broadly available therapy programs for motivated patients are the best route away from the social horrors of opioid addiction. Whether Vivitrol will be an important part of that solution is an open question, and we urge the sheriff’s office to keep a close eye on the program’s progress and an open eye toward alternative strategies.

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