Lifesaving support helps fight heroin, painkiller addiction

After years of seeing people in his courtroom hooked on drugs, Champaign County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Ford started Drug Court, knowing a lot of criminal behavior stems from addiction. Drug Court gives addicts one last chance to clean up or go to jail. In the past year, with help from Carle, the court started an advanced program to help people addicted to various opioids—including powerful painkillers like Vicodin and illegal heroin.

“There have been good results for those who’ve been part of the new Vivitrol® pilot. I want to see the program expand, but the challenge is that people have to want the help. This is only effective when they decide to change,” Judge Ford said.

It’s one of two new programs implemented in 2015 to address the problems of heroin and similar drugs. The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office and Carle are also working together to stop in-progress opioid overdoses. The region’s spike in overdose deaths makes such programs critical.

Through the courts                     

Judge Ford approached the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, Prairie Center and Carle to develop a plan that works in other states. Carle invested more than $80,000 to cover the cost for Vivitrol®, a medication that stops the body’s response to heroin and other opioids.

Participants receive therapy which includes a dose of the medication each month for an average six months plus counseling. Seven people have taken part since the program began in 2015.

“We’ve seen great success with three people who either completed the six-month regimen or discontinued earlier for medical reasons and who have not tested positive for any drugs since,” Judge Ford said.

Two others are being treated. One discontinued treatment and used again. Another received the first dose of medication, but fled residential treatment.

“It’s difficult for people to commit to the Vivitrol® program’s aggressive approach. Nationally there has been surprisingly low participation in this type of Medication Assisted Treatment despite its success in stopping addiction, and now some counties nationwide are considering mandatory programs,” he said.   

While Vivitrol® is very effective, Judge Ford doesn’t believe anything but voluntary treatment is a fit here. 

“I believe in this program because the treatment has great potential for those who truly want to change,” he said.

At the scene

While Drug Court aims for long-term addiction recovery, the partnership between Carle and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office gets an immediate-acting medicine into deputies’ hands so they can save a person overdosing at the scene.

“Deputies respond to remote areas and sometimes are first on scene before EMTs, so administering Narcan can be a critical turning point for the person overdosing,” Champaign County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Shane Cook said.

“Beginning this program in 2015 was timely since heroin overdoses are a problem not just here, but nationally.”

Today, Carle supplies Narcan and training for the 38 patrol deputies who carry Narcan. Each patrol deputy can administer the medication, which acts like a shot of adrenaline to a person in a potentially deadly overdose. The Champaign County Correctional Center also has Narcan, and eight Sheriff’s Office Investigators are trained to administer it as well.

Deputies used the antidote once in 2015 and helped save three more people so far in 2016, showing that these programs to combat heroin and opioid use have already produced lifesaving results.