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New Treatment Giving Addicts A 2nd Chance At Life

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - When an addict is ready for treatment and sobriety, the road is not an easy one.

Michelle Granata started abusing substances when she was 16 years old and those behaviors continued for three decades.

"I was physically and emotionally a mess," said Granata. "You're addicted to everything. You're addicted to that lifestyle."

In December 2012, Michelle learned about a treatment drug for opioid addiction called Vivitrol.

"I'm not going to tell you it's a miracle, but it definitely saved my life," Granata told KDKA's Heather Abraham.

The reason some call it a life-saving option is because it is non-addictive, lasts for 28 days and almost immediately takes away cravings.

We spoke with addiction treatment specialist Dr. Robert Woolhandler at Jade Wellness in Monroeville. He says Vivitrol was FDA approved in 2006 to treat alcoholism, but doctors noticed it also helped those struggling with addictions to heroin and opiates.

"Vivitrol goes in and blocks, cements shut the receptors," said Dr. Woolhandler. "When you do that, the brain sort of knows the receptors are out of business and just stops sending cravings."

It was approved by the FDA in 2010 to treat opioid addicts. Dr. Woolhandler says many have reported the cravings disappearing in an hour's time.

For people who have been using for years, quickly losing the desire to use is miraculous.

"She came back a week later and said, 'Dr. Woolhandler, the cravings are gone. I have not craved opiates,'" said Dr. Woolhandler as he retold the experience one of his patients had.

For Michelle, the initial shot gave her a taste of sobriety and she wanted more.

"I couldn't get that time I needed to get sober to get over that bump and to work in therapy and in group," Michelle said. "Once I got that shot and I knew that even if I tried to get high, I wasn't going to get high, that was enough for me."

Erika Falbo decided to get clean because of her then newborn baby son.

"It's taken away cravings, using dreams, it has allowed me to focus on my life and my recovery without having to worry about the obsession and wanting to use," said Falbo, who drives an hour to Jade Wellness to receive the injection and therapy.

Dr. Woolhandler explains that other options out there may work for some, but there are those who struggle with traditional treatments like methadone and buprenorphine (commonly known as Suboxone) because they are opiates.

"They actually are substitute opiates that go in and satisfy the receptors," Dr. Woolhandler says. Because of that, some may become dependent on them.

Dr. Woolhandler says it's essentially substituting one opiate for another.

Recovering addicts receive the Vivitrol injection every month. Dr. Woolhandler typically advices people to remain on Vivitrol for at least a year, but says every addict is different.

Overdose is still possible while on the shot and it's not advised for people on Vivitrol to take any opioids.

Without insurance, the shot costs over $1,500. However, Jade Wellness says more insurance companies are covering the injection.

Facility director Dan Garrighan says they've never had to ask a patient to pay out of pocket to date and have been offering Vivitrol for more than five years.

One of the hurdles with this treatment option is the preparation before receiving Vivitrol. The addict must detox and stop taking all opioids and be free of them for five to 15 days before receiving the shot.

That also includes methadone and buprenorphine. Many may see that as a roadblock, but Dr. Woolhandler says the solution is to receive the shot in rehab.

"Rehabs are starting to give the shot now before people leave," said Dr. Woolhandler.

He says this provides a buffer before the recovering addict leaves rehab.

Granata says she took the shot for two years and has now been off Vivitrol for two years, giving her four years of sobriety. Others are seeing similar success, but stress that therapy is vital to the process.

For more information on Vivitrol:

For more information on services at Jade Wellness:

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