Addressing addiction: Osceola County Jail begins opioid treatment program

Brenda Camacho (left) sits with her grandson and Jennifer Jordan (center) at Park Place Behavioral Health after receiving monthly Vivitrol shots meant to curb opioid and alcohol cravings. They are two of the more than 60 patients receiving the treatment at Park Place. They are joined by Shideh Varzeger (right), a nurse from Park Place.

Kissimmee-based Park Place Behavioral Health partnered with the Osceola County Jail this month to begin administering an opioid treatment medication to select inmates.

The goal is to help break a cycle of addiction and incarceration to get people out of the criminal justice system.

The program centers around Vivitrol, a medication that blocks opioid receptors in the brain to stop cravings for heroin, pills and alcohol.

The first injection takes place at the jail after an inmate finishes detoxing. The individual is later released to Park Place for a residential stay to receive wrap-around counseling and support services as well as continued monthly injections.

A similar pilot program launched in Orange County in 2016 with promising results.  

“Much like the rest of the nation, the opioid epidemic has hit our community hard,” said Osceola County Corrections Chief Bryan Holt.  “I feel strongly that the Vivitrol program is a positive step in breaking the cycle.”

Getting someone off drugs is cheaper for the criminal justice system, too.  According to jail officials, it costs about $12,735 to incarcerate someone for six months.

A single dose of Vivitrol meanwhile is about $1,400, and Park Place is paying for all program costs.

Park Place is  the central receiving facility for Osceola County – a state designated one-stop location to provide emergency mental health services to people in need and those without insurance.

Park Place received additional state money last year as lawmakers put new emphasis on mental health and opioid treatment funding.

Before launching its partnership with the jail March 21, Park Place created its own Vivitrol program three years ago, and now serves about 60 people on a residential and out-patient basis.

The medication is non-addictive, unlike other substances meant to ease dependency, like methadone. It’s effective because it literally prevents users from getting high if they relapse and take opioids, said Michael Harris, Park Place’s substance abuse treatment clinical director.

“It gives the person the opportunity to actually overcome addiction versus just replacing it with something else,” he said.

Vivitrol and other FDA-approved drugs used to treat opioid addiction have been proven to save lives, according to a new March 20 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report found that these kinds of medications are associated with improved long-term outcomes and that denying them to someone with opioid use disorder could  be considered a denial of appropriate medical treatment.

Yet, the report notes that those who can benefit the most from such treatment often have difficulty receiving the medication.

That’s something Park Place is trying to change with this program, Harris said.

“This drug has been FDA-approved since 2004 and there’s a body of research out there proving how effective it is,” he said.

But expanding the jail partnership program hinges on how much funding Park Place receives for the new fiscal year in July. If money stays steady, Harris estimates 15 inmates could receive treatment.

Due to its high cost, Park Place staff are trying to identify inmates who express a sincere desire to stop using drugs, Harris said.

It’s also why continued support from the state is essential. President and CEO Jim Shanks traveled to Tallahassee this week to lobby on behalf of Park Place during this year’s legislative session.

Harris and Shanks said they’re optimistic about continued mental health and substance abuse treatment funding.

“But you never truly know from year to year,” Shanks said a few days before traveling to the statehouse. “We just hope they see how much good this is doing and continue to support it.”