Medication-Assisted Treatment For Opioid Addiction: A Life-Saving Approach

In case it wasn’t difficult enough for addiction treatment professionals to dismantle the stigma surrounding addiction, they also have to work through the stigma surrounding some addiction treatment methods, too. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a primary method for treating people with substance use disorders. Primarily focused on opioid use disorder, MAT uses prescription medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms during detox and relieve cravings in early recovery.

Although medication-assisted treatment has life-saving potential for people struggling with opioid use disorder, it’s plagued by misunderstanding. Some people believe that MAT only swaps one addiction for another, replacing heroin or fentanyl with a synthetic opioid. But even though a small percentage of people may choose to misuse their medication, that shouldn’t bar everyone from accessing this life-saving approach.

Studies show that MAT provides many benefits to those who want to quit using opioids. It provides a smoother transition between active use and recovery. What is medication-assisted treatment, how does it work, what are the benefits, and where can you find MAT for you or a loved one?

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction?

When someone who frequently uses opioids decides to stop, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. These physical and psychological symptoms range from mild to severe depending on the amount of drugs used and frequency of use. Many times people avoid quitting opioids because they do not want to go through the difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful withdrawal process. 

Medication-assisted treatment is a substance abuse treatment approach that uses medications to alleviate the effects of opioid withdrawals and reduce cravings after the detox period. Rather than feeling distracted by the discomfort of detox, newly-sober individuals can instead direct their attention toward building a solid foundation for recovery. 

Since a few MAT medications are partial opioid medications, some view the approach as merely replacing one addiction with another. However, this is a false and harmful idea of what medication-assisted treatment entails. The Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines medication-assisted treatment as “the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.”1 

MAT does not provide a patient with medication and then leave them to fend for themselves. It is one part of a comprehensive approach to care. Giving someone who struggles with addictive behaviors medications without support or guidance is almost guaranteed to fail. But facilities that offer MAT should never take a hands-off approach to treatment.

Types of Medications Used for MAT

Medication-assisted therapy is a common part of many treatment plans for opioid use disorder. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a few different types of medications for opioid use disorder treatment.2 These include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. 

  • Methadone relieves withdrawal symptoms, limits opioid cravings, and blocks the effects of opioids when used
  • Buprenorphine reduces cravings for opioids after having a few weeks free from substances
  • Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids, including the euphoric and sedative effects

Not everyone uses every type of medication during MAT. Each medication is useful in specific situations depending on the individual’s needs. Clinicians prescribe the appropriate types of medications on a case-by-case basis, oversee their effects, and make adjustments when necessary.

MAT: A Vital Harm-Reduction Method

Despite the negative stigma sometimes associated with MAT, many studies prove it is a vital harm-reduction method. Opioid addiction continues to be a growing problem throughout the United States. Limiting access to a treatment method with the potential to save lives will do far more harm than good.

SAMHSA outlines an incredible number of benefits that people experience when treated with MAT.1 Some of the positive effects of MAT include:

  • Improved chance of patient survival
  • Increased retention rate during treatment
  • Decreased use of opioids or other illicit substances
  • Greater likelihood of gaining and maintaining employment
  • Healthier birth outcomes for pregnant women with a substance use disorder

Additionally, Dr. Amy Bohnert, a researcher at the University of Michigan, noted, “Medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders has been repeatedly proven to reduce overdose deaths relative to no treatment or non-medication treatment.” Her research often centers around the potential these medications have to save the lives of people who spent years struggling with addiction.3

Dr. Bohnert and her team also see benefits of MAT outside the scope of substance use disorder. As she explains, “Reducing the severity of opioid use disorder through medications will also improve mental health. Reducing barriers to the use of these medications is essential to addressing both overdose and suicide.”

Finding Medication-Assisted Treatment in Boise, ID

If you or a loved one are struggling with opioid use disorder, you can find medication-assisted treatment in Boise, ID. Not all programs require an inpatient stay to begin MAT, either; some offer medication and therapy on an outpatient basis for those who find inpatient isn’t an option. 

Emerge Recovery is a substance abuse treatment program committed to drug rehab done differently. We understand that not everyone fits in the traditional box provided by most treatment facilities. Instead, we meet you where you are and help you find recovery without forcing you into a cookie-cutter approach.

To learn more about the services we provide at Emerge Recovery, schedule a free Recovery Activation call today. We will help you outline a path to wellness, starting from where you are to get you to where you want to be, and will walk alongside you each step of the way.

References

1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).

2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions.

3. Science Daily. (2019). Opioids fueled a doubling of suicides and overdoses in the US.

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