ST. LOUIS (KPLR) - It`s a shot that stops heroin in its tracks. The way it works may sound unbelievable. It's a medicine that keeps the drug users mind from being altered. Even many users don`t believe it.
Brittney Gilliam laughed when she said, 'Yeah, I remember someone telling my about it and that it was a blocker and I`m like right there is no such thing. It`s not even possible.'
The medicine is called Vivitrol. It`s a monthly shot that costs more than a thousand dollars a pop. It acts as a blocker inside your brain, to keep you from getting buzzed on alcohol and heroin.
Gilliam said, 'I feel like it just flipped the switch in my brain.'
Tattoos now mark her journey. She says she`s now four years clean from heroin. When she first started the shot, she was so skeptical that she tested it. She said, 'I got some heroin and I said, I`m going to see if this really works you know. So I bought about 50 bucks worth and I shot up and nothing, but I looked in the mirror and my eyes changed. I didn`t feel anything so I said oh well that just wasn`t enough you know. So I went back and bought $50 more and I didn`t feel it then and I thought oh God, I better stop because I had heard of people overdosing even though it`s a blocker.'
That's when Gillian said she stopped using heroin for good. Her nurse at the Center for Life Solutions says she warns every patient starting Vivitrol, heroin won't get them high, but it could still kill them.
Nurse Andrue Watt said, 'You just don`t feel the euphoric feeling, but it`s still in your body. So it can still slow down your respirations. You can still overdose.'
For Brittney, that failure to get high gave her the focus to work through her addiction.
Nurse Watt added, 'Brittney lets you know there`s hope.'
The City of St. Louis, through its drug court, is giving users the shot for free.
Commissioner James Sullivan said, 'We are on a cutting edge, but this is just the beginning.'
Sullivan told us the courts began working with Vivitrol several years ago after a defendant turned up dead. He said, 'Four days after her confinement, her body was found in a dumpster in south St. Louis she died of a heroin overdose and she made a bond and so we tried to figure out what we could do, if this person had been in drug court. She was not in drug court, but if she had been in drug court, what could we have possibly done to assist.'
He says he`s heard users describe Vivitrol wiping away thoughts of heroin and stopping cravings that hit some users when they sleep. Sullivan said, 'So the intensity of those dreams are actually reduced based on what I`ve been told.'
Vivitrol is similar to the medicine Narcan, which is used to wake heroin users who are in respiratory failure. Narcan knocks the opiates out of the receptors in a user`s brain. Vivitrol blocks the receptors. The toughest part for some users who want to try it is that they have to be clean for at least one week before they can get their first Vivitrol shot. Gilliam explained, 'It was not fun, but I knew that there was a brighter side. That there was something else better that was going to make feel better.'
Some people wonder why you can't give a user Narcan and immediately start them on Vivitrol. The problem is that Narcan puts a patient in immediate withdrawal and the user will want to go right back out and get heroin so they don't feel sick. So giving Vivitrol to a patient in withdrawal could lead to that person continuously shooting heroin, desperately trying to attain the high, until they die.
Most health insurance companies cover Vivitrol. In the St. Louis City drug court program, the manufacturer picks up the cost of shots and the entire State of Missouri has bought into the effectiveness of the medicine. The MO Medicaid co-pay for the thousand dollar shot is $2.