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Gov. Shumlin announces new opiate treatment pilot program

Rutland addicts offered naltrexone

RUTLAND — On Tuesday, Dec. 1, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced a pilot program to test in Vermont a new treatment option for opiate addiction. Under the pilot, offenders coming out of Marble Valley Correctional Center in Rutland will now be offered naltrexone, an injected, long-acting medication that reduces the urge for opioid drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers.

Naltrexone works by blocking the body’s opiate receptors, preventing the effects of opioid drugs from getting to the brain. A person must be opioid-free for at least a week before receiving the injection of naltrexone, which is then administered monthly to support recovery.

The Health Department has trained more than 50 health care providers in the protocols for administering naltrexone. Naltrexone is not an opiate, and is not a replacement or maintenance medication like methadone or buprenorphine.

The pilot is a joint project of the Agency of Human Services’ Departments of Health and Corrections and West Ridge Addiction Treatment Center in Rutland. People under the supervision of the Department of Corrections are at a higher risk for opioid addiction, and Rutland is one of the areas of the state with the highest need for comprehensive medication assisted treatment and recovery services.

“Naltrexone is especially promising for treating people coming out of our correctional system, who may be motivated to stay clean but are struggling,” said Gov. Shumlin. “Because of the way naltrexone works to block the ‘high’ from using opioid drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers, this new treatment can help recovering addicts avoid a relapse.”

About 350 individuals will participate in the pilot program, which will be expanded to other parts of the state in coming months. Individuals participating in the naltrexone pilot will also participate in addiction recovery counseling and care management services.

“The first few weeks after release from prison is the riskiest time for a recovering addict,” said Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen. “By offering this new medication choice, combined with psychosocial therapy and strong peer support, we aim to change the paradigm from medication assisted treatment to medication assisted recovery for people returning to the community.”

This pilot project is funded as part of a three-year, $3 million Medication Assisted Treatment and Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services/Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration awarded to the Health Department in August. The purpose of the grant is to enhance and expand access to medication assisted therapy and recovery supports for opioid use disorders to the people and regions of the state with greatest need.

The pilot builds on the progress Vermont has made in the effort to combat opiate addiction since the Governor made the issue the focus of his State of the State Address in 2014. Since then, Vermont has expanded treatment through the Care Alliance for Opioid Addiction, with an additional 1,000 Vermonters in treatment. As of Oct. 15, the pre-trial services program called for by the Governor in that speech has been fully implemented and is currently available to all eligible populations statewide. That program helps those addicts charged with non-violent crimes access treatment and, if successful, avoid jail. In addition, the State has distributed thousands of opioid overdose rescue kits, of which hundreds have been used to reverse opioid drug overdoses.

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