Shots target drug abuse
Pilot program in Waupaca County seeks to stem addiction
By Robert Cloud
A pilot program in Waupaca County seeks to treat addiction with monthly injections.
The drug naltrexone, sold under the brand name Vivitrol, blocks the effects of opioids on brain cells.
Unlike methadone, a drug that has been used for heroin-addiction recovery for years, naltroxene is not opioid-based.
Methadone produces a reaction in the brain similar to heroin. Naltrexone obstructs the opioid receptors so heroin users do not feel the drug’s effects.
“This program is about hope,” according to Mike Meulemans, a program and policy analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC).
Muelemans said many of the criminal offenders on the program have failed common treatments in the past.
“The shot is not a miracle cure,” Muelemans said. “They have to make lifelong changes.”
Agents with the DOC are working with doctors, nurses and counselors to help convicts kick the habit.
In addition to the monthly shots, participants must attend counseling sessions three times a week, submit to weekly drug testing and meet with their probation agent weekly.
“It’s a very big commitment,” said Amanda Ayala, a corrections field specialist in Waupaca.
The goal, Ayala said, is for participants to change their lifestyle, change the way they relate to other people and become more productive.
Jack Linberg is a participant in the program whose addiction led to multiple misdemeanor convictions.
“I started with pot, then I started using painkillers on the weekends,” Linberg said. “It was very expensive, and any money I had went straight to pills.”
Eventually, Linberg began using heroin.
“All the money I worked for went straight into my arm,” Linberg said. “I’d get paid on Friday and all my money was gone by Sunday.”
Linberg said he lost four jobs and lost his apartment.
Although he never overdosed and was never arrested for possession of heroin, Linberg was convicted of possession of marijuana, criminal damage to property, resisting an officer and misdemeanor reckless endangerment.
On March 30, 2016, Linberg was placed on two years of probation.
In May, 2016, Linberg violated the conditions of his probation by drinking.
“I had some time to sit in county jail and think about it,” Linberg said. “At that point, I had so many good things going on. I thought I don’t want this life any more.”
“One to three months is a really tough mark when they first start. It’s not uncommon to see some mishaps,” Ayala said. “We offered him a second chance and he took it.”
Linberg is now working full time, participating in group counseling and one-on-one counseling, and meeting with his DOC agent every week.
Ayala noted that those who succeed in the program have to commit the same amount of time and effort they once put into using drugs and alcohol into turning their lives around.
“You have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Linberg said.
Muelemans said the naltrexone has proven effective in other states where it was used in conjunction with cognitive behavior therapy that encourages criminal offenders to address their anti-social beliefs.
The naltrexone shots, which also block the effects of alcohol, make program participants more clear headed and more receptive to the treatment they are receiving.
Naltrecone is being administered to 13 people in Waupaca County.
Waupaca is one of eight counties in the DOC’s Region 4, which has a total of nearly 90 people on the pilot program.
Region 4 leads the state in the number of opiod samples going to the state crime lab, the number of drug violations, number or relapses and number of overdoses, Muelemans said.
Law enforcement in Region 4 sent 196 samples of heroin to the state crime lab for analysis in 2014.
“You don’t know what’s in these substances anymore,” Mulemans said.
He noted heroin is now being cut with fentanyl and carfentanil, which are more potent and dangerous than heroin.
“We want to basically keep these individuals alive,” Muelemans said.