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Mille Lacs Health System has a new program in its toolbox to help those struggling with addiction. Vivitrol is a long acting, injectable opioid receptor blocker that can be used for both opioid and alcohol dependence.

While counseling can help patients work through the psychological aspects of dependence, medications may help address the physical changes in the brain. Vivitrol (or Naltrexone) injections are given once month, and last about 28 days. The drug works to control cravings by shutting off “urge” centers in the brain.

Mille Lacs Health System Physician Assistant Beth Twite is a treatment provider and also chair of the MLHS Pain Committee. She has spearheaded the initiative and gotten the education and training to be able to set up programming. “We want to reinforce recovery from substance use, and this is one of the ways we can help those struggling with addiction,” Twite said.

Patients who are interested need to be clear of opioids for 7-10 days. Alcohol-dependent persons don’t need to be abstinent, but they cannot be taking opioids.

MLHS gets some referrals from the local Freedom Center, an addiction treatment center with a location in Onamia, but people who are interested in the program can also make an appointment to see Twite. She recommends a substance use assessment to begin with.

People using Vivitrol to combat dependence should know that they will be more sensitive to lower doses of opioids and are at risk of accidental overdose should they use opioids when their next Vivitrol dose is due, if they miss a dose, or after Vivitrol treatment is discontinued. It is important that patients inform the people closest to them of this increased sensitivity to opioids and the risk of overdose. Most Vivitrol users carry cards or wear bracelets to inform medical personnel they are taking the medication in case they’re in a medical emergency.

Mille Lacs Health System is one of two medical facilities in the area to offer Vivitrol to those seeking help with opioid or alcohol dependence, and Twite hopes the program will be a positive step in addressing addiction. She says that MLHS is also exploring the use of Suboxone, which is utilized to help people taper off opioids and maintain a safe transition.

“In the end, we can’t control a person’s social circumstances, which has a big effect on whether they use or not,” Twite said. “But we can offer these programs to help those who really want to get their lives back on track.”

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