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Onondaga County begins program to help inmates kick opioid addiction after release

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo

Onondaga County started a program this week at the Onondaga County Justice Center and the Jamesville Corrections Facility aimed at helping opioid addicts stay clean after they are released from jail. Now, some inmates who are also addicts will be offered a medication that takes away their craving for drugs.

Officials say almost one-third of the population at the Justice Center in downtown Syracuse is addicted to opiates, many of them no stranger to the holding facility.

"Someone will be released, and whether it’s within days or weeks, they’re coming back through the doors of the Justice Center,” said Onondaga County Sheriff Gene Conway.

The sheriff hopes the Vivitrol pre-release pilot program changes that.

Vivitrol is an injected medication that blocks the high from heroin or other optiates for about a month. The Justice Center’s medical staff will identify and counsel candidates, give them a shot before they're released, and help them find rehabilitation programs once they’re back on the streets. 

Vivitrol has been used in other jails across the state -- Albany has been offering it for about a year; and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department plans to start a Vivitrol program soon at the Jefferson County Correctional Facility.

And while the Jamesville facility is also part of the pilot program, the real challenge will be at the Justice Center, where the average stay for an inmate is about 28 days.

"If someone is going to come into the facility today, and in all likelihood will be bailed out in two or three days, unfortunately they’re not going to be a likely candidate. Because we have to have a certain time for the program to begin before the person leaves with that injection," said Conway.

Conway says the Justice Center is the only holding facility in the state that’s offering Vivitrol. And because of the time issue, it may be difficult to find as many volunteers as there would be in a facility where inmates know their release date. But those are poor odds Conway is willing to accept.

"If we save one person, if it’s a half a dozen people who get on the path to being drug free, then it’ll be worth it."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.