Amid opioid epidemic, Vivitrol finds success marketing to judges and jailers

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Yahoo News on 7-6-2017 by Michael Walsh

Michael Prather, 55, an inmate at Hudson County prison in Kearny, N.J., has been using opioids since the age of 14. He had been free of heroin while serving an earlier sentence of more than 20 years, but after being released he relapsed, committed a crime, and wound up right back where he started.

“I still wanted that taste,” he said. “You know what I’m saying? I have tried other drugs to get away from that, but like I say, methadone and all was just another steppingstone to move on and onto another drug. It hasn’t done anything for me. Matter of fact, it is a drug itself. You know?”

Prather has heard of a new drug called Vivitrol. It’s an “antagonist” opioid-dependence medication that blocks the opiate receptors in the brain but does not promote the release of dopamine, the substance that activates the brain’s “reward system” and is associated with addiction. It’s an expensive ($1,100 a shot) monthly injection that requires patients to detox beforehand. Prather hopes this will get the monkey off his back.

“This is the best thing that ever happened, this Vivitrol situation,” he said. “You might try to do opiates just because you want that taste, but ultimately you will not be in a crisis situation when you wake up in the morning and you’re suffering from withdrawals and you need to get that drug.”

People outside the prison walls are now learning about Vivitrol thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign. Good-looking models stare blankly from posters on bus stops and billboards, asking, “What is Vivitrol?” It’s a simple question, but the answer is complex.