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A new drug program for incarcerated people in Lebanon County jail will be starting soon, James Donmoyer, executive director of the Lebanon County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, told the county commissioners Thursday morning at their regular business meeting.
Called “Behind the Bars,” the program’s focus will be the administration of Vivitrol, one of the newer class of agents meant to decrease the need for opiates.
A product of Alkermes Technologies, Vivitrol is the trade name for naltrexone and is an injectable suspension used to prevent relapse to opioid dependence after detoxification treatment. It can also be used to treat alcohol dependence.
To see if they are eligible, new inmates will have their history reviewed and must attend educational groups, since a psychosocial component to the treatment ensures a higher level of success.
“Someone will assess the level of care they’ll need before they leave,” Donmoyer said. “Five days prior to leaving, they’ll get an injection of Vivitrol.”
That injection is expected to keep the individual craving-free for 30 days, Donmoyer said.
During that time, other programs, medications, or both, will be put into place to continue their recovery.
“Vivitrol is new to our county, but that is what’s being pushed by the state and federal agencies,” Donmoyer said. “It’s not for everybody, but it is a non-addictive thing.”
When asked why the drug couldn’t be used for everybody, Donmoyer said it was very expensive and his department’s funding wouldn’t be able to address all those who might benefit.
Vivitrol has grown rapidly in popularity at prison systems across the country following President Donald Trump’s call last year for prisons to facilitate naltrexone treatment. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, research has shown that the cost of providing addiction medications in correctional facilities is outweighed over time by savings in future health care and incarceration costs. Vivitrol has been available at all Pennsylvania correctional institutions since April 2018.
Both suboxone and methadone, used to treat addiction disorders, can also be addictive, Donmoyer said, adding that methadone has to be taken every day.
The monthly injection of Vivitrol costs about $1,200, Donmoyer said.
“I can have five people (to treat) at the methadone clinic for that amount,” Donmoyer said.
“My office is funding the whole program,” Donmoyer said. “We tried to get a grant from the Department of Corrections, but we were denied.”
The warden at the county prison is trying to find other grants, he added.
The manufacturer of Vivitrol will be donating some free samples for the prison program, Donmoyer said.
Donmoyer also told the commissioners about the upcoming year’s contracts for services, which includes six providers and 12 facilities providing 23 services.
All facilities used by the drug and alcohol commission are located outside of Lebanon County, Donmoyer said.
Many of the rates charged by the facilities have increased for the next year, he added. One Quakertown facility went from $207 per day to $250 per day, as an example.
Commissioner JoEllen Litz asked about the total impact to the county budget from the increases.
County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth explained that the rates of the various facilities could change over the course of the year, and they couldn’t know how many people would be taking advantage of the services offered.
It’s possible that not all the facilities will be needed, he added.
“I can’t really give you the numbers before, but I can tell you we’ll stay within our budget by the end of the year,” Donmoyer said.
His department’s budget will fund 65 individuals at the methadone clinic, Donmoyer said, and will also fund eight people using suboxone for the year.
The suboxone costs are $40,000, Donmoyer said.
The commissioners took note that government funding for county drug addiction programs isn’t significantly increasing, even though treatment is supposed to be a priority for the war on drugs.
“We get what they give us and we try to utilize it the best we can,” Donmoyer said. “We try to address as many individuals as we can…the feds and the state say it’s a war, they give us what they do, and then let us fight the war locally on our own.
“We do the best we can and we spread our resources out and I think we’re doing a good job,” Donmoyer said.
In another matter, David B. Weisnicht, deputy base operations manager at Ft. Indiantown Gap, updated the commissioners on Gap activities.
Since Sept. 15, about 4,500 troops have converged at the military training ground outside of Annville, along with a huge support staff, Weisnicht said.
The troops will be engaged in warfighter exercises until October 10, he said.
While here, the visitors use county hotels and restaurants, helping the local economy, Weisnicht said.
On Sept. 28, beginning at 6:30am, the ninth annual “March For The Fallen,” a 28-mile march, will be held to honor those soldiers from Pennsylvania who fell in battle, Weisnicht said.
The public is invited to participate and a 5K run will also be a part of the day.
“This will be a great event and I would encourage everybody to come out,” Weisnicht said.
In other business, the commissioners approved the appointment of Patrick Donovan as assistant district attorney.
The commissioners planned to participate in a ribbon-cutting event for Phases seven and eight of the Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails extension Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a very exciting day for Lebanon regarding the quality of life in our county,” said Chairman Bob Phillips.
The three ribbon-cutting destinations were at 25th Street near Long Lane, behind the Lebanon Valley Mall, the Jonestown trail head next to the Swatara Creek, and Inwood, one half-mile downstream from the trail head.
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An earlier version of this article misidentified the drug as “new”.