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'Saved our son's life' — injectable pellet, fentanyl vaccine among cutting-edge addiction treatments

New implants, fentanyl vaccine being tested
Cutting edge opioid treatments in the fight to save lives
Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 10:58:44-05

CLEVELAND — With recent news of record-breaking drug overdose deaths across the country and in our own backyards, News 5 Investigators went searching for the cutting edge strategies in this battle against drugs.

Joe and Angie Denes are from Marengo, Ohio, a tiny town in Morrow County surrounded by country life. They thought their teenage son Jordan was just recovering from a farming accident and surgery, but then doctors prescribed Oxycontin with 60-100 pills each and refills.


“I looked at (the doctor) and said, ‘Isn’t this some heavy stuff?’ And they said, ‘Don’t worry about that, they the least of your worries. We’ll address that… we’ll deal with that later, down the road,’" said Joe.

That road was a long, twisting nightmare of addiction for Jordan and the family that tried to avoid it from happening in the first place by warning their kids about drugs.

“You’ve talked to them. You’ve had those talks,” said Angie while tearing up. “And then the sheriff’s office calls and says, ‘You guys need to come in.’”

No matter what they tried, there was emotional turmoil and a sense of hopelessness.

“We knew it was just a matter of time. You either end up dead or in prison on this,” said Angie. “And I wasn’t going to bury him without a fight.”


Joe and Angie said they had one last chance to save their son — pellet implants of a drug called naltrexone. They are placed under the skin. Naltrexone pills have to be taken quite frequently. Some injectable medicine lasts 30 days. However, a naltrexone pellet slowly dissolves over several months. That prevents a user from just stopping the harm-reduction medication they need.

Studies show naltrexone has few side effects that are typically not long-lasting. The drug blocks brain receptors for the effects of heroin and even alcohol.

“There’s more and more physicians now that are starting to practice addiction medicine,” said Tom Welch from BioCorRx. That’s one company working with pharmacies offering implants with the naltrexone compound. “But we need to get this widespread so anyone who needs this and that it’s appropriate for can get it,” said Welch.

The company said it has an Investigational New Drug (IND) with the FDA to begin human testing on a different, manufactured naltrexone pellet. It has received about $10 million federal dollars to help in the addiction fight.


Within the past couple of weeks, BioCorRx has partnered with the health center Care Alliance right here in Cleveland.

“We give people these medications with the idea that they may still use, but to give them a chance to get over to the clinical side where they can get counseling to work on the decision-making part of the brain,” said Care Alliance CEO Dr. Claude Jones.

BiorCorRx said patients need to have wrap-around services like therapy, peer support and continued care into the future. It recently joined forces with Transitional Ministries in Cleveland to help with that portion of the treatment.


Speaking of ties to the Cleveland area, we caught up with Kim Janda, who is originally from Bay Village. He and the Scripps Research Institute (no relation to News 5’s parent company) have been developing a vaccine to battle carfentanyl and fentanyl effects that are the number one reasons people are dying now.

“The overall concept is to stimulate the immune system to generate antibodies against the drug, just like what’s being done with COVID right now,” said Janda.

He told us the vaccine is designed to recognize the drugs as foreign substances that need to be removed, and “basically block the drug from getting to the brain, or act as like a vacuum cleaner. It pulls the drug out of the brain,” Janda said.

The next steps are to finish up manufacturing, retest on animals and move forward to people.

“I hope by quarter two of next year we’ll see some of these things eventually be put into individuals,” he told us.

For Joe and Angie, these kinds of weapons against addiction can’t be made widespread soon enough.

“We’re just your typical American family,” Joe said. He said BioCorRx and the compound naltrexone pellet helped their son turn his life around.

“He’s got a family now," Joe said.

“He’s a productive member of society,” Angie told us.

They both know there are so many more people out there just like what their son used to be struggling, strung out, and stuck.

“You don’t think it can happen to you. It can happen to you,” said Joe. “And it’s kind of slow, kind of sneaks in. But when it gets bad, it’s bad.”