Bergen County Jail starts program to help addicted inmates

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The Bergen County Jail has started a program to help inmates who are battling opioid addiction.

Inmate Thomas Sussina, 24, is participating in the program. He says that he has been battling opioid addiction for 13 years.

“I never wanted to come back to jail after last time and this time, it just opened my eyes,” he says. “It’s time to stop doing this.”

Sussina says that he started using opioids when he was just 11 years old after his mother offered it to him over and over again. He dropped out of school in sixth grade.

"I didn't go out, I didn't have friends, I didn't go to school.  I stayed home and I used,” he says.

Under the program, Sussina was given a drug called Vivitrol. The Bergen County Jail started the pilot program with the help of a grant from the state.  Vivitrol blocks the feelings of getting high as well as the urges to use.

“Jail represents the most ideal place to start a drug like Vivitrol because you have to be free from the drug for 10 days and jail is one of the few places where you can really guarantee that's going to be the case,” says Bergen County Jail director of behavioral health services Patrick Hughes.

Sussina describes opioid withdrawal as going through hell.

“It is constant misery.  You feel like every nerve ending in your body is being set on fire,” Sussina says.

Sussina has been in the Bergen County Jail for about three months. A judge moved to release him last month, but Sussina asked to stay so that he could finish the program.

The way Vivitrol works is to take test pills for three days to make sure that the user doesn't have any adverse reactions to the drug. Then the user takes an injection once every month for six to 12 months after that. Jail officials say they are working to set Sussina up with Medicaid so that it will cover the cost of $1,000 shots when he is released and has to do this on his own.

"What I'd like to see is that the pharmaceutical companies don't jack the price of this drug up,” says Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino. “Work with society and let's help our fellow human beings."

The program is available in Ocean County as well.

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