Members of one drug rehabilitation support group say shots of VivitrolTM help keep them from relapsing. (Photo by Alessandro Guerriero/Shutterstock)

A young man from an affluent Long Island community who was injured in a crash while away at college was prescribed Vicodin for the pain — a story that epitomizes the national opioid epidemic.

“Right away I knew I was in trouble,” the now-30-year-old man, whom we’ll call Chris to protect his identity, said during his first substance abuse support group meeting. “I like this way too much.”

His injuries persisted, and Vicodin no longer eased the pain, so he was then prescribed Percoset. When the doctor thought he shouldn’t need painkillers anymore, he was already hooked. He resorted to buying oxycodone on the street at $30 per pill.

Before long, a dealer told Chris he had something cheaper that would deliver the same high, and he didn’t have to use a needle: heroin. Several ERs, drug rehabs and an arrest later, Chris lost his job, savings, and girlfriend. He moved back in with his parents and hit rock bottom.

An addiction doctor suggested VivitrolTM, a once-a-month slow-release injection of naltrexone. After he got the shot, he found his way to a 12-step recovery meeting, where he met others who had been prescribed the same relapse prevention medication.

The doctor told Chris about the one-of-a-kind Tuesday night Shot at Life support group at St. Bernard’s Parish School in Levittown. Members of the group either are, were, or are considering getting on VivitrolTM.

That was three weeks ago, and Chris said he now feels great. VivitrolTM took away his cravings and stopped the destructive voices in his head, he says. And he’s far from alone.

Dr. Russell Surasky of Great Neck, who is double board-certified in neurology and addiction medicine, calls VivitrolTM one of the most effective treatments for opioid addiction.

“With the patient’s firm commitment to recovery, along with counseling and a strong support system, VivitrolTM is a powerful tool in treating addiction to opioids and alcohol,” Surasky says. “Treatment with medication along with ongoing substance-abuse therapy and support offers patients a lifeline. Our patients have had remarkable success with VivitrolTM. They tell us that they no longer crave or even think about opiates and they feel they have finally broken the chains of addiction.”

VivitrolTM was FDA-approved in 2006 for alcohol and in 2010 for opiates. It costs up to $1,300 per shot and is covered by Medicaid and most private health insurance. See vivitrol.com for a list of providers. About 1,500 patients on LI were treated with VivitrolTM between August 2017 and July 2018, according to the drug’s manufacturer, Alkermes.

Some members of the support group at St. Bernard’s visit regularly to share their experience with VivitrolTM with those who come to learn about it.

“Vivitrol saved my life,” Danny M., who was on the medicine for a year, tells the group. “I’ve struggled for years to get clean off opiates and heroin, and nothing [else] worked for me. I’ve now been clean from [opiates] for 19 months and feel better than I ever have. I also attend self-help meetings, which have played a big part in my recovery … this group is filled with such loving and caring people, who I consider family. I am forever grateful for it.”

For Grace C., VivitrolTM and 12-step meetings are the only combination that stopped her from sticking a needle in her arm. Today, she’s off the shot, eight months clean, and is expecting a baby in December.

“I continue to receive support at the group and am able to share my experience with compassion,” she says. “Sometimes I hear the solution there.”

They all say they found testimonials, understanding, and belonging in the group. The ability to give away what they have gotten is a big part of their recovery. The group was started by Linda Mangano and her husband, former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, in July 2015. She continues to volunteer to facilitate the group with boundless passion and dedication, even though neither she nor any of her family suffers from addiction.

“There is nothing more important than keeping families whole,” Linda says. “When someone has a substance use disorder, not only are they suffering but so is their family … we all need to join forces to try and keep people alive. No one is immune. No community is exempt … our meetings are a chance to make a difference, educate parents and friends, and help people get treatment.”

SHOT AT LIFE VIVITROL EDUCATION & SUPPORT GROUP
7-9 p.m. Tuesdays
St Bernard’s Parish School
3100 Hempstead Tpke., Levittown
2nd floor room #209

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