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First Knox Inmate Receives Anti-Opioid Injection

Greg Fox hopes a new medication will succeed where willpower has failed him as he became the first Knox County inmate to receive a trial injection of the anti-opioid drug Vivitrol on Monday.

"I couldn't tell you the last time I've actually been high — I just do it to function, basically," said Fox, 38, who currently is jailed on theft charges stemming from the opioid addiction he has struggled with since 1992.

"I'm getting too old for this."

Fox is the first inmate approved for the "Shot At Life" drug diversion program — a new approach to fighting the opioid epidemic.

Vivitrol blocks the brain's ability to feel pleasure from opioids, such as OxyContin or hydrocodone, or alcohol.

Participants in the voluntary Medication Assisted Treatment program — aimed at nonviolent offenders with pending charges for low-level, drug-related crimes — will receive their first injection before being released from jail into an intensive outpatient program administered by Helen Ross McNabb. Monthly injections will follow for one year, along with individual and group sessions with a clinical counselor each week.

"They're stealing to feed their addiction, and that's preying on our community" said Knox County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Lee Tramel. "If we can stop the addiction, we can stop the crime."

The program is funded by a $150,000 grant awarded by the Trinity Health Foundation of East Tennessee. Alkermes Plc, the manufacturer of Vivitrol, is donating 360 doses to the program. The medication normally costs $1,100 per dose.

There are no taxpayer funds involved, Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Allen said during a visit to the Knox County Detention Facility on Monday. "We've not been able to find anything yet to help us with this addiction problem. And as you know, the addiction problem is what's feeding our crime problem here in Knox County."

The voluntary program can accommodate up to 30 participants.

The effort is modeled after a similar Vivitrol program in Barnstable County, Mass. — the first of its kind in the nation — in which 82 percent of participants have avoided re-incarceration since 2012.

Fox, the first inmate approved for Knox County's pilot effort, faced a 6-year prison term for violation of probation, as well as another 10-year sentence for his most recent charges.

He now will be released on 16 years' probation, pending his successful completion of the program and his ability to keep his record, and himself, clean.

"He understands that this is his last bite at the apple," Allen said. "This is it. He either succeeds in our Vivitrol program or he is revoked straight to the penitentiary. There are no other chances for him."

Allen said each sentence will be crafted for the individual defendant. Fox, a construction worker and father of three, said he spiraled into addiction after initially being prescribed prescription painkillers for injuries he suffered in a rock climbing fall and dozens of subsequent surgeries.

"The doctor would give me anything I want," Fox said. "Any of them. If you've got the history to show them, they'll give you anything you want.

"I've never done rehab or anything like that. This is the best chance I think I've had at succeeding in something and not getting back on it."

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