JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Washington County Commission approved a new substance abuse program that would use the drug Vivitrol to help block the effects of alcohol and opioid addiction at their jail.

Funds appropriated by the Tennessee Department of Health will allow Families Free Incorporated to establish the Vivitrol program at the Washington County Jail.

Families Free Inc. is a local substance abuse and mental health organization that has been using Vivitrol to treat clients for years. They use Vivitrol along with trauma therapy and mental health recovery to treat patients.

“Vivitrol is just a very good aiding tool along with the other services that we’re able to offer as they begin to rebuild their lives,” said Lisa Tipton, executive director of Families Free Inc.

“We have a lot of individuals who have generational trauma and things that they’ve never worked on before, a lot of mental health needs, and they spent years and years masking this,” said Melody Kestner, criminal justice program director at Families Free Inc.

Kestner says Vivitrol allows patients to work on their mental health and fight addiction at the same time.

Craig Forrester is a leader at Recovery Resources, a Kingsport-based group that provides a broad range of support for people in recovery from substance use disorder. He said quite a few of Recovery Resources clients use Vivitrol in combination with outpatient therapy and believes Families Free is making good use of funds by implementing it at the jail.

“It’s a great safety net for the guys,” Forrester said. “Noting that unlike buprenorphine, Vivitrol has absolutely no abuse potential.”

“If they would have offered that when I was going through treatment I would have taken it,” he said.

Inmates will receive a Vivitrol injection once a month.

Families Free will work with the Washington County Jail to identify which recovery services inmates need in the Vivitrol program.

“They will be assessed for the medication, explained the benefits of the medication,” said Tipton. “Then those who choose would be put on a list to go through the process to receive the injection, the follow up process.”

Forrester thinks a number of inmates will take advantage of the opportunity. He said often, people with substance use disorder face particular risks when they are released from jail.

“They think they can do the same amount of narcotics that they were doing when they got incarcerated,” he said. With tolerance reduced, though, “you see a whole lot of overdoses, fatal and non-fatal, because their body’s just not used to having the potency of the drugs that’s available to them on the street.”

Forrester also was optimistic about the ability of former inmates to continue receiving the expensive treatment on release.

“I hope if they’re enrolled with services while incarcerated, they can continue the relationship with Families Free or get connected with Frontier Health and keep accessing Vivitrol regardless of their ability to pay,” said Forrester. “I think that’s a good use of the funds.” 

In fact, that’s exactly what Families Free will do for inmates in the program.

“When the individual leaves for re-entry services and continues to work on re-entry services, they will have a referral to continue the medication,” said Kestner. “So, therefore they have access to resources outside of the incarceration.”

State Rep. Tim Hicks, who carried the legislation to have these funds, believes this program is well-needed in the region’s jails.

“We worked closely with the folks from finance and the governor’s office and it was an honor to carry the legislation and the appropriation to be able to supply money for a good treatment program for folks that just want a new start in life,” said Hicks.

The Vivitrol program is also available to any jail in Tennessee.

Lisa Tipton with Families Free says for jails to contact her if they are interested in starting a Vivitrol program in their facility. Her email is