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Arizona Opioid-Blocking Program Proving Less Effective Than Hoped

As the opioid crisis continues to ravage communities in Arizona and across the country, states are looking for ways to help people stay away from the dangerous substances, especially those who have run afoul of the law, in part, because of their addictions.

That means turning to commonly known treatments, like methadone, as well as a relative newcomer to the scene called Vivitrol, an injectable form of naltrexone that is used to block opioid receptors in the brain. State correctional departments across the country now provide Vivitrol shots to some prisoners upon their release.

The Arizona Department of Corrections kicked off its Vivitrol program in August 2017, but despite the faith put in the opioid-blocker, it hasn’t had the wide-reaching effects that were expected.

The Arizona Republic’s Maria Poletta recently reported that, since the pilot program launched, just 84 prisoners have participated, and of those 84 individuals, just two completed six months of treatment, while 22 ended up back in prison.

Vivitrol’s manufacturer, Alkermes told KJZZ in a statement that opioid use disorder “is an incredibly complex disease and individuals’ treatment and recovery experiences vary because no single treatment is right for every patient."

The Show spoke with Valena Beety, the deputy director of ASU’s Academy for Justice. She thinks part of the problem is likely the reliance on Vivitrol alone, especially when we know so little about it compared to other treatments.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.