Bexar County will test a new drug treatment program for county jail inmates that uses a medication that costs $1,000 a dose, but members of the county’s Joint Opioid Task Force think it will be worth the expense.
The program will be the first in Bexar County to use shots of naltrexone -- under the brand name Vivitrol -- to treat addicted inmates before and after they are released from jail. Mike Lozito, the director of the Bexar County Office of Criminal Justice, said the medicine blocks the effects of opioids.
“So if they were to use the drug they won’t get the high they usually get,” Lozito explained.
Lozito said without the incentive of the high, there is no reason for addicted inmates to use opioids, so there is an increased chance that they will not resume using the drugs when they leave the jail.
Naltrexone is delivered in injections, and the inmates in the program will receive shots before and after they are released, combined with cognitive behavioral therapy.
“They’ll get four shots,” Lozito said. “They last 30 days, and with the counseling we’re able to get people turned around and thinking clearer and into programs and into employment and on a good path.”
That’s the hope, anyway. Bexar County Opioid Task Force Chair T.J. Mayes said there is evidence to support the idea that this kind of program leads to better outcomes.
"It’s been shown in jurisdiction after jurisdiction to reduce overdose deaths and reduce re-arrests, which saves lives and saves money," Mayes said.
Shots of naltrexone are expensive. They’re around $1,000 a dose. Add to that the cost of a psychiatrist to prescribe it and a therapist to support the inmates and you’ve got a pricey program on your hands. But Lozito thinks it will ultimately prove to be cost effective.
“What we want to show is if we spend money up front it’s a lot cheaper -- it’s about $5,200 per cost of individual -- whereas if you had them in a 90 day treatment facility, it’s about $11,000 to $12,000.”
Mayes suspects the financial benefits will go well beyond just the cost of the treatment.
“Medication assisted treatment in the jail leads to a reduction in crime, an increase in employment six months after incarceration, a reduction in overdose, and a reduction in recidivism,” Mayes said. “So it's good for the economy, it's good for the humanitarian, good for the public health...it's good for everybody."
The first 18 months of this program will be funded with a $365,000 grant through the governor's office. Sixty-five inmates will be enrolled starting this spring.