State grant helps Will County detainees beat opioid addiction

Brock A. Stein | 12/20/2017, 10:54 a.m.
A $16 million state grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services is serving as another tool in the state’s ...

A $16 million state grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services is serving as another tool in the state’s fight against the opioid abuse crisis.

In Will County, the funding has been used to bring opioid-blocking medication to detainees struggling with addiction while they are locked up at the Will County Adult Detention Center in Joliet.

122 patients have received Vivitrol, a slow-release medicine, since the program started in July said Ron Vlasaty, Executive Vice-President for Family Guidance Centers which includes 7 locations throughout the state including one in Joliet. He said that patients in the county lock up are evaluated before determining if they are candidates to receive the treatment. Criteria includes determing whether the inmate has an opioid dependency and whether their crimes are related to that dependency. In some cases, an attorney can request that a client be given an assessment to see if they would be a candidate for the program. Vlasaty said that those in lock up are good candidates to receive the opioid-blocker since treatment can’t start until someone has been drug-free for about 2 weeks. Vlasaty said that in addition to getting the drug once every 30 days, patients also have to be willing to take part in counseling services while still incarcerated and after they are released in order to continue receiving the drug, which he said blocks the effects of opioids.

“When somebody is on Vivitrol, no other opioid can have any effect on them,” he said.

“In essence their wasting their money if they’re using because they’re not going to get high.”

Of those 122 patients that have received the drug, 77 have been served by the state grant funding which comes from a larger $500 million block of funds that were made available through a federal pilot program approved by former President Barack Obama before he left office. 51 patients continue with the program, said Vlasaty, with 14 who have been discharged either because they were released and left the state, didn’t comply with the program or stopped attending treatment counseling.

Vlasaty said that the new method for treating inmates has changed since the program started, with drug counselors going in to the jail to provide treatment. He said that’s come from working closely with Will County judges, the state’s attorney’s office and local law enforcement to provide the best and safest options for treatment of inmates. He said that the program has saved money on manpower and transportation and “it’s a lot safer and easier for everybody involved.”

“The judges in Will County have been super supportive of this,” he said, with many noticing the recurrence of people with addictions appearing before them in court.

“If we’re not addressing the substance abuse issues they’re just going to keep seeing them,” he said.

He said that the Will County program and the state grant are just one piece in the ongoing fight against the opioid crisis.

There were 78 heroin and fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Will County in 2016, according to the County Coroner’s office. The county looks to be on track to match or beat the number with 73 deaths so far in 2017 (as of December 5.)