MERCER – Taking what they believe is a new approach, county officials and the Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission are going to provide a mobile doctor’s office that offers a once-monthly shot designed to thwart heroin use.
Vivitrol is a once-a-month shot that blocks the receptors in the body that gives users a high. Commissioner Scott Boyd said he and about 25 others participated in a presentation from Pittsburgh-based Positive Recovery Solutions, who can provide the mobile unit to help combat the growing heroin and opioid overdose problem.
The drug is given in conjunction with counseling services to help avoid relapse. Users who inject heroin or take narcotics after being given the shot won’t get the “high” associated with drug use, Boyd said. The costs are generally covered by private insurance or medical assistance, he said.
Information on the Vivitrol website said a shot costs about $1,100 and the treatment can last anywhere from 8 to 18 months. Marketing materials claim it has no side effects and will “remove the craving and compulsion to get high.” Combined with antidepressants, 12-step programs and therapy, it’s considered “a functional cure.” Recovery rates are as high as 90 percent, according to the manufacturer.
Critics of the drug, which is also available as a pill, say it doesn’t totally remove the desire to get high, but instead “pushes it down the road for a month.” Addicts who took a once-a-day pill often “forgot” to take it, allowing themselves to get high on drugs. The shot is slowly released over a 30-day period.It also works for those who have a problem with alcohol.
This particular drug differs from methadone and suboxone which are “replacement” drugs for opioids, Commissioner Chairman Matt McConnell said. Vivitrol is a straight-forward opiate blocker that stops the cascade of events that happens in the brain when someone uses opioids.
McConnell said the mobile unit is staffed with a physician’s assistant who can administer the shot and this route may offer more opportunities than local doctors can provide.
“Some doctors may have an issue with giving the shot. Some may be concerned about the perception of having addicts coming to their offices,” McConnell said.
The initial target population will be those in the Mercer County Jail, particularly those scheduled for release. The county will pay for the first monthly shot.
County officials are working to provide mental health and drug addiction services for those in jail, to help inmates avoid returning to jail. A full-time mental health worker was hired for the Mercer County Jail and efforts will be made to continue counseling services once an inmate is released.
“The jail isn’t the place for these people, but unfortunately, it’s where they end up. And while they are there, we are going to do a good job to accomodate
The mobile unit may travel to other Mercer County communities in the future, he said.
It’s an oversized recreational vehicle that needs a large area to park. It has an office, a waiting room and a restroom.
“Hopefully this will be an arrow in addressing a very big problem for us,” McConnell said.
A woman in the audience at Thursday’s commissioners meeting questioned the use of a drug designed to save the life of an addict. “I’m wondering what’s the point. Some of these people are getting saved over and over again and they go out and do it again,” she said.
McConnell said she was likely thinking of the drug Narcan, which reverses an overdose, but in a single instance. It does nothing long-term to prevent relapse like Vivitrol does, he said. “Also, I’m not in a place where I think I get to decide who gets to live or die. That’s not a choice I’m willing to make.”