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US Prisons Relying on Naltrexone to Treat Opioid Addiction

- By Alyangka Francheska Manalo

More U.S. prisons are relying on naltrexone as an effective method in treating inmates with opioid addiction. Jail and prison systems in 28 states across the nation are using naltrexone under the brand name Vivitrol, for their anti-drug addiction program.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that most prisons rely on Vivitrol, an extended release naltrexone injected monthly, to reduce opioid and alcohol cravings. Inmates who have opioid addiction are 12 times more likely to overdose in the first two weeks upon their release if their addiction is left untreated.

"Abstinence alone does not cure addiction; people need treatment," said Dr. Warren Ferguson, director of the Health and Criminal Justice Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He commented on the choice of Vivitrol as treatment for opioid addict inmates: "The other thing it does is prevent anybody who uses narcotics to actually get high, or significantly reduces the high. Most importantly, it will prevent overdose and death."

In February this year, the UMass Medical School partnered with departments of corrections in Connecticut and Rhode Island as well as the sheriff offices in Barnstable and Middlesex counties in Massachusetts to study the effects of medication treatment of opioid addiction among inmates.

Traditional medications methadone or Suboxone pose challenges

Some U.S. prisons have been using traditional medications like methadone or Suboxone as a first-line treatment for opioid abuse that is taken daily. However, while several studies have found that Suboxone and methadone are showing some promise, the treatment itself poses some challenges because both drugs are narcotics and can be abused and taken recreationally.

Suboxone overdose is also being blamed for some deaths. The drug is manufactured by Reckitt Benckiser.

In the case of Vivitrol, the New England Journal of Medicine study is recommending a sustained treatment using the drug as the effects of naltrexone tend to decline when treatment is stopped.

Brady Granier, president, CEO and director of BioCorRx Inc. (OTCQB:BICX), an Anaheim, California company developing sustained release naltrexone products, commented "naltrexone in any sustained release for can be of great benefit as long as the individual can stay on it for several months or even years in some cases. Suboxone certainly has its utility in some cases as each person's situation is different, but I do think that it can often be used prematurely. It's time for the treatment model to change by putting sustained release naltrexone in the front line when it comes to medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorder. The argument might be that it's too difficult to get someone detoxed in order to get them on naltrexone, but that's changing. There are many new detox protocols and tools, such as The Bridge device, that can now make the detox period quicker and much less severe. Together, products like this and sustained release naltrexone can be the future standard of treatment."

Naltrexone shows high success rate

Data from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse said that up to 65% of inmates across the U.S. are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but only 11% receive treatment during incarceration. It is hoped the collaboration between the private sector and prison management officials iwill address opioid addiction and make recommendations for improvements and implementing proven practices to create a model.

The Barnstable County Correctional Facility, the first adult detention facility in Massachusetts to launch a Vivitrol program, has shown promising results in reducing recidivism. Barnstable County Sheriff Jim Cummings reported that 82% of the 178 inmates given an injection of the opioid blocker in 2016 have not been incarcerated again. "We are delighted to have been chosen by the prestigious UMass Medical School in Worcester as a partner," Cummings said. "We look forward to where this project will take us. We have much to impart and much still to learn."

The West Virginia Division of Corrections has also incorporated a monthly injection of Vivitrol to its soon-to-be-released inmates and are now showing positive results. Debbie Hissom, director of Medical Services at the Division of Corrections, told The Register Herald that since the program was initiated in July 2015, a total of 47 inmates have participated in it. Hissom said that parole officers of participants who have been paroled have been reporting positive feedback about the progress of the participants.

"I think anything we can do is positive," Hissom commented on the program and added, "Of course, it's not a 100% success rate. It is voluntary, and lots choose not to enroll. Some start and only get one or two injections."

Sheriff Peter Koutoujian is reporting similar progress at Middlesex County Jail which has also teamed up with UMass. Koutoujian offers opioid-addicted inmates returning to the community a medication-assisted program that combines enrollment in Medicaid with an injectable form of naltrexone and post-release counseling, but his main focus is to assist inmates in acquiring health insurance.

He said, "Before I became sheriff, we'd hand them a packet so they could sign up for their own Medicaid, a long and complicated process. Upon their release, Middlesex County Jail inmates are assigned with social workers to help in the transition to life on the outside. The social workers will also encourage the drug-addicted inmates who have the means to continue with the treatment at low or no cost at all."

Granier added, "We are encouraged by the increase in the use of Vivitol programs across the country. We hope to one day soon see our own monthly injectable naltrexone product, BICX101, used in these programs as well."

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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