Heroin overdoses continue to hit record numbers in Manatee and Sarasota counties. A lot of users end up in jail, but don't get help. So they start using drugs again once they get out, and often, end up back in jail.
That's concerning because researchers have found that in the first two weeks after a drug user is released from jail, the risk of a fatal overdose is much higher than at any other time in his/her addiction.
That's why a new partnership is launching aimed at getting inmates the help they need..
Gino Scano is writing a new story in his life, helping the addicted as a recovery coach at Centerstone in Bradenton.
"What they don't realize is that they help me, as much as I help them," Scano said.
That's because Scano is a recovering addict. His troubles started as a teenage, with too much drinking. It spiraled into drug abuse, and the two addictions eventually took over his life.
"You think everything's fine. You think you're normal. As long as you can get high, you're normal. And you're not," said Scano.
After three times through rehab, Gino finally got clean. He's been sober for 26 years now, and he loves seeing others defeat their addictions.
"It's painful, but when you get a success story, you hang onto it with both hands," Scano said.
Sarasota County is hoping to have more of those success stories. Right now, it's battling an epidemic of heroin abuse.
"We're certain that we're not going to arrest our way out of a social issue such as this," said Major Jeff Bell with the Sarasota Co. Sheriff's Office.
So it's launching a partnership with Centerstone, Armor Correctional Health, and drug court to give some jail inmates injections of Vivitrol, an anti-craving medication. And deputies see their best shot at helping people kick the habit is behind bars.
"You have to be clean for 7-10 days to get the initial injection. That's why being here in the jail offers quite a bit more of a guarantee," said Major Bell.
Right now, drug court is working to identify people who might be a good fit for the voluntary program.
Inmates will get an initial injection of Vivitrol in jail, and then follow-up doses along with intensive behavioral therapy, once they're released.
"Medication assisted therapy will definitely be the answer for some folks. It will be part of the story of their journey to recovery," said Melissa Larkin-Skinner, chief clinical officer with Centerstone of Florida.
Vivitrol coupled with therapy, won't solve all the heroin problems in Manatee-Sarasota, but those in the area, are optimistic it will help chip away at it and save lives.
According to the Pew Charitable Trust, about 50 state prisons in Colorado, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia now dispense the medication. And at least 30 jails in California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming also are offering it to departing inmates.
States with chronic drug problems, like West Virginia, are already seeing success. During a pilot program last year, the state administered a combination Vivitrol/behavioral therapy program in state prisons. About 40 inmates participated. According to WV State Rep. Chris Stansbury, now that word's gotten out, more inmates are starting to participate in the program's second year.