The path to recovery can seem hopeless, especially for substance users who have repeatedly relapsed after treatment. If you’re concerned about this part of recovery, medication-assisted treatment could be the answer. At The Granite House, we provide this proven treatment that has helped thousands of former addicts live fulfilling lives free from substance use.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
As the name implies, this type of treatment involves using medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to help people overcome opioid addictions. In a MAT program, patients receive opioids in a controlled, clinical setting at safe dosages. Health care professionals oversee the program to ensure clients are using it as part of an overall treatment plan.
What Is the Medical Rationale Behind MAT?
Opioid use disorder is one of the most difficult addictions to treat. Relapse rates after recovery can be as high as 60% to 77%. In addition, many people with opioid use disorders avoid getting treatment because they don’t want to go through withdrawal.
Withdrawal from opioid use can result in severe symptoms that include:
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Goosebumps and shivering
- High blood pressure
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle aches
MAT Is Evidence-Based Treatment
Using MAT can help people with opioid dependencies avoid withdrawal symptoms and reduce relapse rates. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, MAT is a proven, evidence-based therapy.
The treatment, which also goes by the names pharmacotherapy and maintenance treatment, uses three types of FDA-approved drugs: methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. These drugs can be lifesavers. Users can stay on them for years, or they can use them to transition to a completely substance-free life.
Methadone is the best-known medication in addiction treatment. It has been a treatment for heroin addiction since the 1960s, and it is FDA approved for this purpose.
Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist. Its chief benefit is its ability to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms. Opioid addicts experience painful, difficult withdrawal symptoms when they stop using drugs. With methadone, they avoid those symptoms because their bodies are still getting opiates.
Methadone is also excellent at reducing relapse rates. Relapse rates among people with substance use disorder are high across the board. They’re even higher among opioid users, whose relapse rates are around 90%.
First Line of Therapy
Studies of medication-assisted treatments have found that methadone should be the first line of therapy for opioid addicts.
Researchers have concluded that methadone helps to increase retention in treatment, physical and mental health levels and quality of life. Furthermore, it decreases the use of illicit drugs and HIV risk behaviors. In 2009, the World Health Organization guidelines recommended methadone and buprenorphine as first-line agents for agonist maintenance treatment.
The same study said buprenorphine was a good choice for people who couldn’t take methadone because of “its better tolerability profile, lower risk of overdose and recreational use and ease of use.”
Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. Like methadone and heroin, it produces euphoria and a lower respiratory rate. One of buprenorphine’s chief benefits is that it’s long lasting. Some clients can use it on alternate days, which makes it more convenient and less intrusive than methadone treatment.
Because its opiate effects are less marked than those of methadone, it works best on people who use smaller amounts of opioids daily. Heavy users must first lower their intake before beginning buprenorphine treatment.
Doctors can prescribe buprenorphine in their offices and clinics, which makes it easier for more clients to get treatment. Centers that are certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can also prescribe buprenorphine.
Aren’t Methadone and Buprenorphine Opiates?
They are, and that’s why they work. They relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings in people who would normally turn to street drugs. Instead of using possibly tainted street opioids and engaging in criminal behavior, substance users can get the drugs their bodies crave safely. When a doctor prescribes methadone or buprenorphine, substance users benefit in several ways.
People on these medications:
- Take them in a controlled, clinical setting
- Can get on with their lives without nagging cravings
- Don’t take street drugs that might contain dangerous additives
- Don’t share needles or engage in other risky behaviors
- Are less likely to contract diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C
- Are not committing crimes or putting themselves in dangerous situations to pay for their drugs
Since methadone and buprenorphine are themselves opioids, many people view MAT treatments for opioid dependence as just substitutions of one addictive drug for another. According to the NCBI, taking these medications as prescribed allows patients to keep jobs, avoid street crime and violence and lower their exposure to HIV by decreasing injection drug use and drug-related, high-risk behavior. Patients stabilized on methadone and buprenorphine may also find it easier to engage in counseling and other behavioral interventions essential to recovery.
Only MAT Is Proven to Reduce Relapse Rates and Overdoses
One particular study conducted in 2019 followed people in treatment for substance use disorder at three months and 12 months after beginning treatment.
The researchers concluded that only treatment with buprenorphine or methadone was linked with a lower risk of overdose at both time points. Treatment with either of these medications led to a 76% reduction in overdose at three months and a 59% reduction at 12 months. Buprenorphine or methadone treatment was also linked to a 32% and 26% relative reduction in serious opioid-related acute care use at three and 12 months, respectively.
Buprenorphine and methadone are also the treatments of choice for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Naltrexone works differently from the two aforementioned opioid treatments. It is an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks the effects of opioids. When you take an opioid while on naltrexone, you don’t get the euphoric high. Because it’s no longer enjoyable to take the drug, you lose the craving for it.
Naltrexone is FDA-approved to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders. It has many advantages over other treatments.
- Reduces cravings for opioids and alcohol
- Reduces relapse rates and improves compliance with drug and alcohol treatment programs
- Does not cause physical or psychological dependence
- Does not cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it
It should be noted that Naltrexone won’t “cure” addiction. However, it has helped many who suffer from alcohol or drug addiction maintain abstinence by reducing cravings.
You must stop taking all drugs and alcohol for 10 days before beginning naltrexone treatment. Taking it while you have substances in your system will lead to severe withdrawal symptoms.
Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?
The research studies cited above show that MAT is an evidence-based treatment for substance use disorder. Ongoing research confirms those results. A review of MAT interventions in Baltimore, Maryland, which has high rates of heroin addiction, found that these interventions helped reduce overdose and addiction rates. The same study looked at rates of overdoses and deaths in France, which also introduced MAT therapies at around the same time.
The researchers concluded that jurisdictions could potentially reduce heroin overdose deaths by instituting policies that support the expansion of evidence-based medication treatment of opiate dependence.
Myths About Medication-Assisted Treatment
Despite ample research that MAT reduces relapse and overdose rates, there are still some misconceptions about this treatment.
- With MAT, You Are Trading One Addiction for Another
Many people worry that substance users will simply trade an opioid addiction for a methadone or buprenorphine addiction. There are important differences between the two types of drug use.
When people misuse opioids illegally, they use uncontrolled street drugs that often have dangerous additives. They expose themselves to dangerous situations and engage in crimes to get money for drugs. With MAT, they take opiates in a controlled, clinical setting under a physician’s supervision. The opioids don’t contain deadly additives. MAT allows them to avoid street drugs without going through withdrawal or experiencing unbearable cravings.
- MAT Should Only Be a Short-Term Solution
While some people can use MAT as a short-term support for their recovery, many people need to stay on the treatment for months or years. Recovering addicts can experience long-term success by combining MAT with counseling, aftercare and support groups. This allows substance users to live normal lives without using dangerous opioids.
- Insurance Won’t Cover MAT
Many insurance companies recognize that MAT often works better than other treatment options. Therefore, most policies cover medication-assisted treatment. However, you should contact your insurance company to be sure you’ll have coverage.
In some states, people on Medicaid can get coverage for MAT as part of a drug treatment plan.
Medication Is Not Enough
In treating substance use disorder, it’s rarely enough to use one treatment. Most illnesses require a comprehensive array of therapies. For instance, if you have diabetes, your doctor will tell you to change your diet, start exercising, reduce certain foods and take insulin.
Substance use disorder is the same. You won’t conquer it until you use a multi-faceted approach that includes medication, counseling, lifestyle changes and emotional support.
Therapies That Work
A good rehabilitation center should provide an array of evidence-based treatments. If you’re selecting a rehab center or an outpatient center, look for one that offers these treatments in addition to medication-assisted treatment.
A reputable treatment center will not offer MAT without counseling. Medications are excellent, but they do not help clients change the environmental, emotional and other issues that led to their use of substances. Counseling and behavioral modification are key to dealing with these issues. Centers that only provide medication without counseling do not qualify for SAMHSA certification.
Some treatment centers offer cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is one of the most empirically backed forms of psychotherapy. Counseling and psychotherapy can help people get off drugs, but former users are likely to relapse if they don’t also have MAT and ongoing counseling.
The 12-step framework is a popular way to give substance users the support and structure they need to live without drugs. Like counseling and psychotherapy, these programs work better in conjunction with MAT.
Medication-Assisted Treatment at The Granite House
The Granite House offers evidence-based treatment for anyone who wants to end their dependence on drugs or alcohol. The Granite House is a full-service treatment center that provides:
- Individual treatment plans: Since no two substance users are alike, each person needs a plan tailored to their specific history and needs.
- Medication-assisted treatment: Reduce your cravings and avoid withdrawal symptoms with safe, proven MAT.
- 12-step curriculum: The Granite House integrates the 12-step curriculum into our treatment plans. When incorporated with MAT, it helps former users transition into daily life without illegal drugs.
- Aftercare: Treatment doesn’t end when you leave. You can enhance your chances of success with sober homes for men and women. These homes offer structured support programs, holistic therapies and outpatient counseling.
Find Help and Hope at The Granite House
You can find help for your, or your loved one’s, struggle with sobriety. Medication-assisted treatment is a proven, safe way to start the process of recovery without cravings or withdrawal. Make a fresh start today by contacting The Granite House at any time.