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Killer Tide: Prisons Administer Opioid Blocking Drug To Help Addicts Avoid Relapsing

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- It's not a miracle cure for opioid and heroin addiction, but a drug called Vivitrol is helping some addicts avoid a relapse.

"It's an opioid blocker. So basically it attaches to the receptor in your brain that's telling you that you want to get high," Beverly Moskowitz tells WCBS 880's Marla Diamond.

The non-opioid medication contains naloxone, which is used to reverse an opioid overdose. It's being used in prisons across the country and locally in New Jersey's Hudson and Ocean counties and in New York's Suffolk and Orange counties, where Moskowitz is the offender services counselor.

"What it does is it takes away your cravings. It's not a cure-all by any means, but it is a great tool to help someone on the road to recovery," she says.

Learn More: Killer Tide. The Opioid Epidemic

The prison began a Vivitrol pilot program in 2015 and it has seen results, according to prison administrator Col. Kenneth Decker.

"It seems to be working here in Orange County. We have about a 20 percent, give or take, recidivism rate," he says.

Vivitrol represents a departure from the two major medications used to treat opioid addition: methadone and buprenorphine -- both opioids, and both easily manipulated.

"I've tried Suboxone. I always found a way to either manipulate the doctor into giving me more. I've sold it on the streets. I've miss-dosaged," an inmate named Brittany tells Diamond. "Sometimes that is painful as well, and with this I've heard it's not like that."

Watch: Former inmate, Brittany, talks about her addiction 

In her seven years of using opioids, Brittany has been in and out of jail.

"I was a booster," she says. "It's where you go to stores and you steal things, and you come back out and you have either yourself or somebody else go in and return the clothes. And they give you a gift card, and then you can go and sell the gift card for money."

"I also did sell some drugs as well to do my habit. Thank god I did not sell my body," she continues.

Brittany received an eight month sentence for leaving a drug treatment center and thus violating the terms of her probation. Before her April 6 release, she received an injection of Vivitrol, which lasts for 30 days.

"I just knew when I first got here it was just something that I had to get. I felt like it was the missing link," she says.

But the injections are pricey, averaging about $1,000 per dose. While the county helps former inmates get insurance and tracks their progress, they cannot force them to get follow-up shots or the treatment needed in conjunction with the medication.

A spokesman for Vivitrol's manufacturer, Alkermes, tells Diamond the Orange County jail continues to receive free samples of the drug.

Two weeks since her release, Brittany is doing well on the drug. She's going to counseling and has been drug free.


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