Opioid addicts often relapse because it’s so tough getting and staying clean. Old habits die hard. It’s often the same story for heroin addicts.

Jefferson County Day Report Center executive director Ronda Eddy is no stranger to these life and death struggles. She’s spent three years systematically designing a program for non-violent adult offenders with a history of substance abuse who are sent to the Ranson facility for help, most often by the legal system.

Since the Eastern Panhandle lacks many needed resources to deal with its growing heroin epidemic, Eddy also implemented a new initiative last fall. Clients can begin to receive a monthly injection of Vivitrol to dull the brain’s receptors and help control opioid cravings while a patient at United Summit Center in Harrison County, she said.

“We decided that we needed some level of a medication-assisted treatment. We actually started our program after learning that Summit was releasing people on Vivitrol. And I wanted a specialist in addiction providing that treatment and continuing their care after being released,” she said.

After completing the detox program, day report clients can now work with an “experienced level of addiction specialists” since some of the treatment costs are offset by the West Virginia Medicaid Program. Technology is also playing an important role in getting clients paired up with doctors more quickly than ever.

“I am happy because I can see that people are getting some relief from their addiction. And they do seem to respond better to treatment with Vivitrol. They are maintaining sobriety and their attendance here is good. And they are more motivated to seek employment,” she said.

“It just seems like they get a sense of hope, and maybe help get their lives back on track. That is saying a lot since no one comes through our doors willingly and it is a difficult population to serve but we are having some success with this,” she said.

Many people aren’t motivated enough to do this on their own.

It makes sense to take advantage of the window of opportunity that exists while an addict is either incarcerated or in detox, said Dr. Ryan Wakim, a board-certified psychiatrist who is affiliated with West Virginia University Hospitals.

He is the medical director for the day report center where he provides mental health and addiction services via telehealth. Telehealth uses electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials first approved using Vivitrol for the treatment of opioid addiction in 2010. In recent years it has been used in preventing relapses following detoxification programs and also diminish cravings in heroin-addicted patients.

Vivitrol, an injectable form of naltrexone, is a non-addictive, non-narcotic medication that has proven effective in helping opiate addicts stay clean, he said.

West Virginia leads the nation with the highest number of overdose deaths per capita at more than 35 overdose deaths per 100,000. Opioids are the main driver of drug overdoses. The state region with the highest number of overdose deaths per capital in the Metro Valley (which includes Putnam, Mason, Cabell and Kanawha counties), at 61 per 100,000.

This kind of epidemic clearly shows a problem that can be helped by “bridging the gap between the criminal justice system and evidence based medicine,” he said.

Education is important to stakeholders who aren’t always familiar with this option. As a result, Wakim was the keynote speaker at a luncheon held last week where audience members included county officials such as circuit judges, prosecuting attorney, probation officers and the sheriff.

Traditional treatments have drawbacks, including maintenance drugs like methadone and bupenorphrine which both require daily dosing. Vivitrol does not produce a high, and cannot be diverted to street use, he said.

It’s not a silver bullet or a free pass. Recovery still takes time and work to break drug-using habits.
Patients are generally thankful and appreciative but “always in the first few visits,” he said.

“It takes a brave person to do what we ask in order to get and stay clean, and for those willing to take the leap of faith it often works out positively. I like to think that every time I see a patient on Suboxone or Vivitrol I am saving their lives.

“Given the statistics, this isn’t too far from the truth though it is often the work they put in outside of the clinic walls that makes the most difference in remaining clean and sober versus relapse and possible death,” he said.