By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The country’s drug crisis now kills more people each day than car crashes or gun violence. A growing number of specialists hoping to offset the epidemic are turning to an anti-addiction drug that’s expensive but effective.

Most anti-addiction drugs are themselves addictive, but this newly-popular medication is a non-narcotic alternative, and its sales are up 40 percent.

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Nicole Sanfilippo can enjoy decorating cupcakes with her sons now, but the 39-year-old mother of three spent 7 months lost in addiction to heroin.

“Anybody can be addicted,” Nicole said. “I never drank. I never did a drug in my life. You know, it grabs a hold of you and it takes off from there.”

She says heroin is prevalent in affluent neighborhoods in Delaware County where she once lived. She got started with a boyfriend.

“I was depressed and in a hole that I wanted someone to take me out of,” Nicole said. “Heroin did that.”

After quitting, relapsing, and losing custody of her children, she stopped cold turkey and was able to stay clean with an anti-addiction drug called Vivitrol.

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“It blocks the craving so you don’t crave the opiate and you don’t think about it. You can think about other things like taking care of your kids and having a job and having a normal life,” Nicole said.

Vivitrol is an extended-release form of naltrexone injected once a month.

Richard DiMonte is an addiction specialist who has been a paid consultant for the drug maker. He explains that Vivitrol “attaches to the mule receptors in the brain, this is the opiate receptors, and blocks them, so the opiate can’t get to the receptor to activate the system and get a sense of euphoria.”

Richard says patients like Nicole have to be committed to recovery and counseling.

“In the case of opiate addiction, I do recommend at least a minimum of about a year of therapy,” Richard said.

Nicole is grateful for her family. “It amazing knowing my family supported me through all of this,” she said. She is drug-free now and relieved. She said Vivitrol “100 percent saved my life.”

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One issue with Vivitrol is it costs $1000 a month. Nicole says she was lucky. Her family and insurance paid for it.

Stephanie Stahl