With heroin use on the rise, more judges and corrections officials are turning to another injectable to fight the drug: They're offering Vivitrol, an opiate blocker, to heroin users they encounter. The drug uses naltrexone, which is also used to combat alcoholism, to block heroin's effects on the brain, and it lasts for a month—unlike methadone treatment, which requires clinic visits and daily doses. That makes Vivitrol particularly effective for former users who receive it upon leaving jail. Without it, these now-detoxed users don't always realize they can no longer tolerate the heroin dose they used to take; if they're tempted to use again at their former level, "the body simply can't handle it, and they die," an expert says. But a dose of Vivitrol buys them a month of reduced temptation, during which they can start counseling.
The treatment is not without its critics, the AP notes; some officials are unsure the $1,000-a-shot treatment is effective enough and say not enough research has been done, while some heroin users decline the treatment because it carries a risk of liver damage and depression. But with heroin overdose deaths having increased by 45% in the US between 2006 and 2010, others say Vivitrol is worth a shot, and Vivitrol programs are active in at least 21 states. (Another bonus: Unlike methadone, users are unlikely to become dependent on Vivitrol.) "I think I would have died," says one former heroin user who credits Vivitrol and God with saving her life. After a year of monthly injections, she's been drug-free since late 2012. (In New York City, more than half of the NYPD's force will soon be carrying a heroin overdose antidote.)