The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic brain disease, meaning that it is both biologically and psychologically based. In other words, the more you indulge in your addictive behavior, the worse it gets. And without treatment, addiction can lead to serious consequences such as financial ruin or death from overdose or suicide.
This article will explore all aspects of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction including how it works and what types are available.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?
Medications used in MAT are either agonists or antagonists. A full agonist like methadone is similar to the drug itself, stimulating the opioid receptors within the brain and resulting in euphoria. An antagonist blocks those same receptors, it doesn’t produce intense feelings of pleasure, but it does reduce cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms.
Medication-assisted treatment is a relatively new concept, first introduced in the U.S. in the late 1970s. In this approach to addiction treatment, patients are stabilized by administering a replacement medication that will help them decrease or stop their use of an illicit opioid drug while they receive counseling and other types of support. Some people who use medications that either mimic or block the effects of opioids are less likely to abuse substances like heroin or prescription painkillers. These treatments first came into play with people addicted to opioid drugs, but they have also proved effective for those with stimulant habits, such as gambling addiction or compulsive overeating disorder.
In addition to methadone and buprenorphine, currently available MAT drugs include naltrexone (Vivitrol) and disulfiram (Antabuse). Some of these medications are also used in maintenance, but it is important to note that they do not cure addiction. Like the other medications we mentioned above, MAT drugs simply reduce cravings and lessen withdrawal symptoms, which in turn reduces the risk of relapse.
How Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?
Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction usually begins with agonist therapy. The goal is to ensure that a patient has a safe supply of medications that either mimic or block the effects of opioids while they detox and then receive counseling to help them change their behavior.
With agonist therapy, a medication such as methadone (Dolophine), buprenorphine (Suboxone), or naltrexone (Vivitrol) is used to help provide a safer transition from illicit opioid use. They work by allowing a patient to function normally without experiencing the negative effects of an opioid drug.
The goal of this combined therapy is to help a person reduce or stop their abuse of opioids, giving them time and space to learn new life skills and coping mechanisms as they go through withdrawal. This is accomplished through treatment with methadone (Dolophine) or buprenorphine (Suboxone), which are opioids that can be taken orally once a day. MAT drugs for opioid addiction typically include some type of narcotic blockers, such as naltrexone (Vivitrol) or disulfiram (Antabuse).
If you believe that someone from your surrounding would benefit from medication-assisted treatment, it is important to find a medical professional that can provide or prescribe MAT drugs. For example, you can look up “Suboxone doctors near me” or “methadone clinics near me” and you will find a list of health facilities that can help you or someone you know. This is the first step to getting started on this treatment.
What to Expect During Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction
During the detox phase of medication-assisted treatment, patients are typically monitored by doctors and nurses around the clock in order to keep them safe while they go through withdrawal symptoms. This phase typically lasts 5-10 days.
Typically, patients must take medication without fail for an indefinite period of time to avoid the negative symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Monitoring ensures that the patient does not abuse opioids or take too much medication.
After detox, the treatment can begin. The patient will begin to see a doctor or therapist on a regular basis so they can get support and counsel related to their addiction. The goal is for the person to continue treatment until it is deemed safe or preferred by doctors and counselors.
How Effective Is Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction?
The success rate of MAT drugs for opioid addiction is difficult to determine. However, a review of the available published literature indicates that long-term treatment with drugs such as methadone (Dolophine) and buprenorphine (Suboxone) may reduce heroin use by up to 70 percent in some cases. That being said, not everyone benefits from this form of treatment, and relapse is common.
It is important to keep in mind that medication-assisted treatment reduces the risk of death for opioid addicts by 50 percent compared to non-users. This number can be even higher when you consider that MAT drugs are used under medical supervision, which is not always the case with opioid addiction treatment.
Is This Treatment Just Switching One Addiction With Another?
One of the most common misconceptions about medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction is that it replaces one addiction with another. Critics say that MAT drugs are just “substitute drugs” and that methadone clinics are simply “drug dens” instead of proper rehab centers.
There is no question that MAT drugs can help some people avoid relapse, but these medications work best when combined with counseling and other forms of therapy. In fact, those who undergo agonist therapy as part of their opioid addiction treatment show better results by the end of the first year than those who only receive counseling. For example, in one study, both methadone and buprenorphine led to significant improvements in treatment retention, treatment satisfaction, and the ability to avoid illicit opioid use.
Opioid Addiction Is a Medical Problem, Not Moral Failure
Another common misconception about medication-assisted treatment is that – compared to other forms of therapy – this type of treatment essentially makes the patient’s condition worsens or that MAT drug abusers are “guilty addicts.”
In fact, opioid addiction has a biological basis and is considered a chronic disease by many health care providers. It’s important to keep in mind that no one ever decides to become an addict or make mistakes with their medication, despite what some critics say.
There is still much research to be done on the long-term effects of methadone and buprenorphine, and many people in the medical and scientific communities want to find a way for patients to stop treatment without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Currently, there is no pill that can instantly solve opioid addiction and stop withdrawal symptoms. However, medication-assisted treatment has been shown to reduce death and other negative consequences associated with opioid addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, the best course of action may be to talk to a doctor or therapist about your options.