People fighting opioid addiction in Bristol, Virginia will have a new way to help overcome their battle.
News 5's Jessica Griffith reports how the Bristol drug court is taking part in a pilot program, using an opioid blocking drug called Vivitrol.
Senator Bill Carrico and Delegate Todd Pillion worked to get the pilot program approved in the general assembly.
$50,000 was worked into the state budget, so the Bristol drug court can use Vivitrol to help those fighting addiction.
It's called an epidemic in our region... the battle of opioid addiction.
But now, Virginia is following in the footsteps of states like Tennessee and Kentucky in allowing Vivitrol as a treatment.
"So many people are addicted to opiates that this is just another tool in the tool box to get them off of that," Sullivan County Judge Jim Goodwin said.
The drug court there has 23 participants and five started getting monthly injections of Vivitrol last November.
"We've had no relapses since they've been on the program," Goodwin said.
It's similar to drugs like Suboxone, but leaders here say Vivitrol is different because it's injections are provided by doctors so the medicine can't be diverted for illicit use.
"Once it goes in, it's in. It doesn't come back out, you don't get high. It attaches to the opiate receptors. So once the shot is there and once the medicine attaches, if you take opiates you don't get high," he said
Dr. Sarah Melton is a professor at ETSU's Gatton College of Pharmacy.
She says Vivitrol works to not only help opioid addiction, but also helps with alcohol addiction.
"It also decreases cravings so the person is able to do counseling and recovery, 12 step meetings, to really be able to get where they need to be," Melton said.
She says people giving and getting the drug need to be educated.
Each monthly injection lasts 28 to 30 days.
Towards the end of that dosage, the concentration goes down, so if patients decide to take opioids, the risk of overdose is higher at that point in the month.
"Making sure that they do follow up and get their injections on time, because obviously if you skip a month that's going to be problematic. But really education is the main thing," she said.
Vivitrol doesn't come cheap.
At $1,300 per injection, leaders hope a successful pilot program will lead to funding to keep it accessible.
"It's very uncommon that you get money to pilot it. And I have so much belief in the people that will be administering this that I'm very excited to show the general assembly how successful we can be," Senator Carrico.
The money for the Bristol pilot program becomes available July first.
Participants must be clean from opioids for 30 days before getting an injection.
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