Year after year, West Virginia has seen the highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States. But now medical professionals and patients are praising a new drug they say could be the end-all solution to addiction.
It's called Vivitrol, and the first cycle of patients is finally seeing the effects of the year-long treatment.
"Vivitrol is the solution to our prescription drug abuse problem," said Brenda Francis, a recovering addict who swears by the drug.
It was developed in 2006 to combat alcoholism. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration approved Vivitrol to treat heroin and painkiller addiction.
For Francis, 50, it started with Percocet. Then it was oxycodone. Francis became addicted to prescription pills after she hurt her foot in an accident.
And after that, she said she spent the next nine years in Hell.
"That was my first love everyday," said Francis, of Matewan. "I would get up in the mornings and that was what I would reach for, that's what I would think about."
Francis said she faced the brink of death and lost almost everyone she loved. But then her friend told her about Vivitrol.
"They gave me the first injection and within 15 minutes I just felt so strange," Francis said. "I had no cravings."
Medical experts said that's because the drug blocks receptors in the brain that lead to addiction.
"It's very powerful," said Dora Davis, a registered nurse who works at Logan/Mingo Area Mental, Inc. "I've seen a lot of success with it. I've seen it work on hundreds of patients."
This nurse claimed one injection per month for one year completely stops an addiction. And unlike methodone and other opium-based treatments, patients can't abuse Vivitrol because it quashes cravings altogether.
"The only people who have failed Vivitrol are the people who stopped using Vivitrol," Davis said.
But with each injection costing $1,200, many people can't afford the treatment, especially when one needs health insurance to obtain Vivitrol. Francis is lobbying lawmakers, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies to make the drug more affordable and available.
"All it takes is one trip to the doctor's office for you to become them," Francis said. "So don't judge them. Help them."
Side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and soreness at the site of injection. The West Virginia Nursing Network in Hurricane and the Logan/Mingo Area Mental Health, Inc., are two of the only places in the region that provide Vivitrol.