State D.O.C partners with ThedaCare to tackle local heroin problem

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN (WLUK) -- A pilot program through the state Department of Corrections is looking to help inmates who may be addicted to heroin.

The program aims to treat the inmates before they go back out in the community, in hopes of keeping them from using again.

Some doctors say the question of how to solve the problem of addiction has a medical answer.

ThedaCare's Dr. Eric Smiltneek is the medical consultant for the local program. He said, "Addiction is really a medical, chronic brain illness, much more so than a character failing or a criminal offense."

That's why, the state Department of Corrections has partnered up with ThedaCare on a pilot program.

Michael Meulemans, the D.O.C.'S program policy analyst, said, "We want to make sure that we exercise all possible alternatives before we incarcerate somebody."

Offenders are given the opportunity to receive an injection of Vivitrol.

"It helps people resist cravings. A lot of times it's those cravings that bring people back to want to use again," Smiltneek said.

The unique thing about Vivitrol is that patients only need to get an injection about once a month, so doctors say that makes it easier to manage.

"They don't have to deal with having medicines, taking medicines, remembering to take medicines," Smiltneek said.

54 people have been going through the program since March. The program takes 12 months to complete.

So far they have seen some patients with side effects such as pain, nausea, or depression.

Smiltneek said, "There are always a few people who have had some issues."

But the D.O.C. says it hopes the treatment can keep more people from returning to jail in the future.

Smiltneek said, "It's not 'boy look at the statistics, how are we ever going to get out of this.' There is hope in the whole situation."

Meulemans said, "They have a sense of hope, they have a sense that they can contribute to society in a productive manner."

Giving people the tools they need, in the form of a small injection, to succeed.

The D.O.C. says if all continues to go well, they'll look at expanding the program to other parts of the state.

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