New drug gives hope for heroin addicts

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Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014 --- 9:00 p.m.

A new drug is giving hope to heroin addicts.

Vivitrol is a prescription shot that physically prevents the body from feeling high for 30 days after it's given.

"I never thought I'd be able to get clean," said one 25-year-old who battled a five-year heroin addiction.

Because of his history, he didn't want his identity known so, for the purpose of the story, he's called "James."

James started using prescription drugs in high school after getting his wisdom teeth removed. A doctor then prescribed him methadone to help with his prescription drug addiction. He said he then became addicted to methadone and started using heroin because it was cheaper and easier.

James said he spent more than 40,000 dollars last year on heroin.

"I started stealing, whatever I had to do to feed my addiction," he said.

While serving time in jail for a theft charge, James heard about Vivitrol. When he got out, a doctor prescribed the monthly shots to him

"In the beginning it helps because you know that you can't go use. I mean, you can, but it's pointless," he said.

Thanks to a grant, some prisoners at Dane County jail are receiving the shots once they're released.

"We try to get them directly here so we can do the injection immediately," said Sue Moran, Clinical Director at Journey Mental Health Center.

The shot has to be administered after an addict has been clean for a week, which is why Moran aims to give it to prisoners right after they are released.

"It's so critical because for so many people when they leave jail, the triggers are so high for them that many people immediately relapse," she said.

The pilot program is funded through a grant and runs through September. Since the program started in January, the 15 participants are still receiving monthly shots and 75 percent of them are now employed.

"They have to be willing to come in and do urine analysis and get injections and do group [therapy] every week and see their counselor, and the ones who are doing that are doing really fantastically," Moran said.

Madison Police Detective Julie Rortvedt considers the heroin problem in Dane County to be an epidemic, and hopes Vivitrol will help stop it.

"We've tried other methods... they don't seem to be successful, so I'm hoping this is what we need," she said.

The shots cost between 800 and 900 dollars each time. Some insurance providers cover Vivatrol, and that's how James was able to receive it.

The drug carries the risk of a user overdosing on heroin, if they attempt to use, since they won't be able to feel a high from it.

James, who's six months sober, said he plans to continue taking the shots for now.