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Jun 14, 2016 4:36 PM

Costs for a Cure: Medication proven to help heroin/opiate addicts but hard to get

New Hampshire averages one overdose death every day.

What if a solution was as simple as a drug that eliminates a persons intense cravings for opiates or heroin? There are several drugs that have proven to do just that, but not all of them are easily accessible.

"Most of them when they get to the point where they're coming to see me aren't even getting high off their drug of choice. They're just chasing to keep from getting sick," said Dr. Charles Dreibelbis.

Dreilbelbis works with patients with substance use disorders at ROAD to a Better Life in Somersworth. The practice incorporates counseling and medically assisted treatment. For some patients that includes Buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone. It works to block receptors in the brain that cause addicts to crave drugs. Suboxone varies in cost depending on the pharmacy but without insurance it ranges between $200-$600 each month.

Methadone is another option, and monthly costs average $400-450. Critics say it interferes with life activities because it includes daily trips to the clinic.

Several doctors, including Dreilbelbis are using Vivitrol, a one of it's kind shot that's made headlines for being called a 'miracle drug.' Vivitrol costs $1,200 each month and stems cravings by blocking receptors in the brain. Experts say it has proven highly successful but not everyone is a candidate. The drug can cause liver damage and isn't always covered under insurance plans.

Vivitrol can only be shipped to a specialty pharmacy, which can leave patients vulnerable to relapse.

"I can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to get their medicine here and shipped at the office," Dreibelbis said.

The New Hampshire State Prison recently launched a program that provides qualified inmates with a shot of Vivitrol (naltrexone) before heading back out into society.

"The environment that our patients are going back to right now is much more soaked in opiates than it was when many of them came into the system," said Chief Medical Director, Dr. Jeff Fetter.

The goal is to get newly released inmates through the first few weeks while they settle into a treatment program, without worrying about medication compliance.

Current inmates with substance abuse disorders are given oral naltrexone on a daily basis.

Vivitrol has seen success in Massachusetts. In one study, Middlesex County averages a 77% recidivism rate for released inmates. Those who participated in the Vivitrol program averaged a 9% recidivism rate.

"It's one of a number of tools," Dr. Fetter said. "For an individual patient it could be a very effective tool but nothing is a miracle drug."

Suboxone, Methadone and Vivitrol are covered under medicaid. Coverage and costs varies under individual insurance plans.

For information on treatment programs in New Hampshire click here.

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