The staggering rates of opiate addiction and cases of overdose across America have reached epidemic levels of tragedy. Millions of people are dealing with prescription drug misuse, as well as illicit opioid use like heroin and fentanyl. There are over a dozen different kinds of synthesized opiates that have powerfully addicting qualities leading users to experience a quick spiral into psychological and physical dependence. With much more research being conducted into learning just how this opioid crisis has occurred, scientists have also discovered a lot more about the disease of addiction and how it affects the brain. In recent years, this kind of research has helped opiate treatment evolve to include effective outpatient programs that can allow those with substance use disorder to lead fulfilling lives while ending their addiction and starting on the road to long-lasting recovery.
Several medications can help ease the pain of withdrawal symptoms to allow the treatment process to progress. This is often referred to as MAT, or Medication Assisted Treatment. Studies have shown these medications to be very effective for long-term recovery. Without medicated treatment, many users are forced to “white knuckle” their way through the horrible experience of withdrawal and an intense amount of cravings. Many people who attempt to suddenly cease opioid use without medical assistance often relapse, which can be very dangerous. Relapsing and taking the same dosage that they were using before can lead to overdose because of the body’s changing tolerance to the drug. While there is no imminent danger of someone going through withdrawals, the painful symptoms can be counteracted with medication, rest, and self-care.
Methadone: It has been used for decades to treat opioid addiction with the first use dating back to 1947. It works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain, often alleviating symptoms of withdrawal, making the detox portion of treatment less painful and dreadful. It can also prevent the effectiveness of other opioid drugs, inhibiting someone from feeling the high of using. Methadone must be taken under physician supervision and, with compliance, can eventually be given for home use. People who used methadone were significantly more successful in continuing their treatment and long-term recovery.
Buprenorphine: Introduced in 2002, it was lauded as the latest advancement in MAT and it was the first medication permitted to be prescribed or dispended in physician offices, which increased treatment access for many people. It works by lowering dependency on opioids while also avoiding painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It is a partial agonist, which means that it binds to and activates a given receptor in the brain but only at partial strength. These effects are much less than those of methadone or drugs like heroin but increase with each dose until someone’s tolerance is “leveled off.” The ceiling effect caused by this medication can help avoid the risk of misuse and dependency. This medication is given in phases: induction, stabilization, and maintenance. It also has a long-lasting agent, meaning that patients may not need to take it daily.
Naltrexone: This is a medication that blocks opioid receptors in the brain which make drug misuse ineffective or uncomfortable. Someone who uses this medication will not feel any pleasure or high from using opioid drugs, which helps deter those in recovery from relapsing. Naltrexone is not addictive, but it can lower a patient’s resistance to opioid drugs significantly, making the risk of relapse using higher doses risky. The extended-release injectable is administered once monthly and eliminates the need for daily dosing.
Facts about MAT- Medication Assisted Treatment
This form of treatment has become more popular in the wake of the biggest opioid epidemic the US has ever seen, yet some remain skeptical of its effectiveness.
Myth: MAT trades one addiction for another
Reality: Once someone is addicted to a substance, they cannot always handle the detox process of painful withdrawals without medical assistance. Those who seek out MAT have been much more successful with treatment.
Myth: MAT is a short-term solution
Reality: Patients who are on MAT for approximately 1 – 2 years tend to achieve the best long-term success in recovery. There is yet to be any evidence that proves the contrary. This myth mostly exists because people do not understand the science behind the medication.
Myth: Abstinence is better than MAT
Reality: MAT is evidence-based treatment based on the way addiction affects biological and behavioral components of the brain and body. Once a person is enrolled in MAT, they can become independent from their addiction safely.
Myth: MAT is only for the worst cases of addiction
Reality: MAT can be used to treat all levels of addiction upon initial doctor assessment. There are different medications available that are administrated in varying doses to meet the need of each patient. The length of their treatment is dependent on their individual needs, compliance with the program and ongoing counseling..
Myth: Long-lasting recovery can’t be achieved with MAT
Reality: People in MAT have shown rapid improvement with overall health and mental wellbeing. With coinciding therapies, they are better suited for long-term recovery and are less likely to relapse using dangerous doses.
Myth: People who use methadone will become addicted to it
Reality: Methadone is highly regulated and has been shown to cause very few deaths. Even when abused, it is not nearly as potent as illicit or prescription opioids. There are many more people becoming addicted to their prescribed opioid medications every day than there are people abusing methadone.
It has been proven and shown that MAT is the most effective treatment for opioid addiction. Along with counseling and behavioral therapy, a whole-patient approach to treatment is best for long-term recovery. In fact, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Medical Association, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies all agree and emphasize MAT as first-line treatment.