Orange County aims to expand anti-addiction treatment for inmates

Vivitrol blocks high of opioids

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orange County Jail staff - and most Orange County Sheriff's Office deputies - carry Narcan, a life-saving drug that almost immediately cancels the effects of opioids like heroin and oxycodone and reverses an overdose.

Last Tuesday, while News 6 cameras were rolling, a jail officer saved the life of a woman who collapsed in front of the jail. The officer squirted the Narcan nasal spray up the woman's nose and minutes later, her bluish-skin turned back to normal, she began breathing and sat straight up in the stretcher. Deputies said she had overdosed on heroin.

But that woman is not out of danger.

Dr. George Ralls, Orange County's deputy administrator for health and public safety, believes a drug called Vivitrol can help people like her.

"Narcan treats an overdose, it is a life-saving dose and it is highly effective. Vivitrol addresses opioid addiction," Ralls said. "What I would say is, it's the best thing we have going right now."

As part of a pilot program, addicted inmates at the Orange County Jail are already given Vivitrol once per month, along with regular behavioral therapy and counseling.

Ralls wants to expand the program and offer more inmates access to the treatment. On Monday afternoon, he asked Orange County Commissioners for an additional $500,000 to fund the expansion of the Vivitrol program.

"Vivitrol is not a single intervention," Ralls said. "It comes along with behavioral health therapy, ongoing counseling and a real, firm commitment from a person trying to get off the opioid."

Each Vivitrol shot costs around $1,000. It blocks the high from opioids so that an addict would feel no effect after shooting up.

"It's a relatively small amount of money that we're investing," Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said. "The goal here is to see people leave our jail and stay off of heroin and stay out of our jail."

County commissioners vote Tuesday on Ralls' request for additional funding.

Jacobs and Ralls want to break the cycle of addiction, arrest, release and re-arrest.

"Absolutely worth the investment," Jacobs said. "But we're starting with a small investment because we want to make sure we're seeing positive results with this population."

According to Orange County officials, 473 people have overdosed on narcotics within the county so far this year, compared to 243 overdoses during the same time period last year.

"Frankly, there's no better time for intervention than when you have just about died to introduce the idea that maybe now's the time to seek help," Jacobs said.

Jacobs announced Monday that Narcan is now available in drug stores across Central Florida without a prescription. CVS said most of its stores carry Narcan. A does of Narcan costs around $35.

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