Indiana Lawmaker Introduces the BRIDGE Program to Tackle Opioid Addiction
State Senator Jim Merritt introduced a first-of-its-kind program to tackle opioid addiction in Indiana. The BRIDGE Program, a pilot in the Greenwood City Court, offers opioid addicts on probation the opportunity to participate in a rehabilitation program rather than return to jail.
New Program Blazing a Trail
Merritt said in a news conference that if the BRIDGE Program is successful, other courts would likely embrace it.
“This program will get the bugs out. I believe this program will be held up not only by the courts in Indiana but nationwide.”
Probation, Weekly Drug Tests Part of Program
Everyone on probation will undergo a weekly drug screening. Those who admit they have a drug problem can opt to participate in a three-step program to avoid incarceration. The program starts with implanting a BRIDGE device, followed with a prescription for Vivitrol, a drug that blocks opiate receptors, and ends with intensive psychosocial counseling.
Program Uses Implanted Device
The first step begins with medical professionals inserting a device called “the BRIDGE” behind the ear. The device is a little larger than a quarter and targets cranial nerves to block pain signals caused by withdrawal. The BRIDGE remains in place for five days and makes the withdrawal from opiates faster and less painful. Innovative Health Solutions, a Versailles-based Indiana company, makes the device.
The BRIDGE is not new, but it has not previously been used in the criminal justice system. Addiction centers in six Indiana cities currently use the device, but the Greenwood Recovery Court is the first government entity in the country to offer it.
Monthly Vivitrol Injections
After the BRIDGE, participants will receive a drug called Vivitrol. Monthly injections of Vivitrol will block opiate receptors in the brain that produce the high addicts feel. The third step involves an intensive psychosocial counseling program that lasts 16 to 26 weeks. Greenwood Recovery Court Judge Lewis Gregory says,
“That is where the real work is done to get the people away from the drug.”
If participants complete the program, any charges related to drug addiction will be expunged. Aside from the drug charges, related charges could include theft or driving with a suspended license.
How Funding Is Sourced
Insurance does not currently cover the BRIDGE, which costs $495, with additional fees for implantation and removal. The Greenwood Recovery Court can fund the program for the next six months, thanks to a $7,000 grant from Drug Free Johnson County and fees collected from people on probation. No taxpayer money will be used to for the program, but officials are seeking federal funding.
If the program is successful, supporters hope the Indiana Medicaid program and commercial insurers will cover the BRIDGE program, which has the potential to save Indiana a considerable amount of money, because its costs are low in comparison to the costs of incarceration. Sending drug offenders to prison is very expensive and can lead to overcrowding.
Others Interested in Program
Twenty other counties expressed interest in the BRIDGE device, according to Innovative Health Solutions. Last year, Scott County reported an HIV outbreak, mainly due to needle sharing by intravenous drug users. The goal is to expand the program, and Merritt believes this program can “kill” heroin addiction in the next five years.
Tragedy Inspired Program
Eight years ago, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper’s sister, Leah McMillan, died of a heroin overdose. Leah was a graduate of Indiana University and a college athlete. She became addicted to painkillers after several softball-related injuries and back pain. Painkillers eventually led to heroin use. She died of an overdose in 2008, at the age of 26.
The experience changed Cooper’s approach to disciplining drug offenders. He began sending addicted offenders to Greenwood’s Recovery Court. Cooper supports the BRIDGE program and believes a program like it might have saved his sister.
“It’s something that’s time has come”
“I always say this is an illness. It’s not a character flaw. This is a health care problem. This is not a law enforcement problem.”
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