This summer, the Lane County Adult Drug Court will become the first drug court in Oregon to provide Vivitrol -- a drug injected just once a month that can help opiate addicts overcome drug dependence.
The drug works by helping to reduce the craving for opiates, such as heroin, and can prevent individuals who do use opiates from feeling their euphoric effects.
"That's the one concrete report that they continue to hear -- that it takes away the cravings for the addiction," said Bonnie McIrvin, director of the local drug court. "For opiate addicts, that is the biggest draw."
The new treatment will be available starting sometime this summer to eligible individuals in the drug court and Lane County Veterans Treatment Court -- roughly 115 people in all -- and will be paid for by a $38,000 grant that the county has received from the Oregon Community Foundation.
Currently, 43 percent of local drug court participants use opiates, according to county statistics.
Court officials say they are excited to test the efficacy of Vivitrol, which may hold some promising advantages over other drugs that are taken on a daily basis to treat opiate addiction, such as Methadone and Suboxone.
"(Every) morning, you would have to make the decision to say no to the opiate (and) say yes to the medication," said Carrie Carver, a sergeant with the Lane County Sheriff's Office. "That's a very hard decision to make."
Additionally, unlike Suboxone and methadone, Vivitrol is not a narcotic.
"There's always a lot of concern about people substituting one addictive substance for another," Carver said. "Vivitrol is not pleasure-producing, it's not addictive and it's not associated with abuse."
McIrvin said one potential benefit of Vivitrol is that a full month without getting high allows addicts to direct their attention to creating what she calls the "foundation of recovery."
Addicts need that foundation "to address a lot of their emotional issues, physical issues and environmental issues," she said.
Vivitrol was first approved by the Federal Drug Administration in 2006. While other organizations in Oregon have utilized the drug, McIrvin said its effectiveness is not yet conclusive.
"The jury is still out on this one," she acknowledged.
Data collected during a 2011 study -- paid for by the manufacturer of the drug, Alkermes Inc. -- suggested that Vivitrol helped opiate addicts stay drug-free more often and for longer periods of time.
In the study, in which half of 250 participants received a monthly shot of Vivitrol and half received a placebo, 94 percent of those who received Vivitrol remained drug-free after an initial two weeks compared to 77 percent of those who received the placebo.
In its grant application, the county stated that the funds will pay for about 17 doses of Vivitrol, which cost between $800 and $1,000 per shot.
McIrvin said she hopes the new treatment will help instill self-confidence among participants.
"In feeling good about themselves, the potential for their dreams is there," she said.