Medically assisted treatment has been considered controversial in the past, especially for opioid addictions. This is because there has been a stigma surrounding the treatment due to people considering it to be a replacement for an addiction opposed to an actual rehabilitation. This is simply not true. More and more studies are suggesting people are turning their lives around due to medical assistance and are able to eventually fully recover from their addiction. Medication allows an individual to gradually transition into recovery, while traditional rehab demands sobriety immediately. Immediate sobriety has shown to increase rates of relapse, overdose, and even death.
Medically assisted treatment works by providing a variety of medications that prevent withdrawal, cravings, and even relapse. Some drugs can block the desired effects of opioids, so if a person relapses, they won’t even get high. In conjunction with medication, patients receive intensive therapy, both group, and individual. People who have medication assistance are proven to be more likely to continue through the entire treatment process. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, has been publishing information recommending MAT for opioid addiction and proving its efficiency. NIDA is debunking some of the myths surrounding MAT:
Methadone and buprenorphine DO NOT substitute one addiction for another.
The dosages of these medications used in MAT does not get an individual high, which is the major difference between these drugs and illicit substances or prescription opioids. Buprenorphine and Methadone are opioid agonists, meaning they trigger the receptors in the brain that are associated with the effects of opioids, but they do not provide the euphoric high. This prevents painful withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid dependence. These medications restore balance to the brain circuits affected by addiction, allowing the patient’s brain to heal while working toward recovery.
Methadone and buprenorphine also have an extremely low rate of diversion onto the black market. This is mostly attributed to the fact that these drugs do not provide the desired high found in traditional opioids. In fact, in 2014, buprenorphine made up less than 1% of drugs diverted onto the black market.
Some other facts provided by NIDA are:
- MAT DECREASES opioid use, opioid-related overdose deaths, criminal activity, and infectious disease transmission.
After buprenorphine became available in Baltimore, heroin overdose deaths decreased by 37 percent. This is why MAT is often highly recommended and supported by those in the harm reduction community. Many needle exchange programs can help participants get into MAT programs.
- MAT INCREASES social functioning and retention in treatment.
Patients treated with medication were more likely to remain in therapy compared to patients receiving treatment that did not include medication. This is due to the success of medication treating powerful cravings. Drugs like naltrexone, which prevent an individual from being able to relapse, can be taken daily or inject once a month. Once a person is injected with the medication, they will not be able to get a euphoric high from opioids for 30 days. This drug is also proven to limit cravings. Additionally, a recent study found treatment with extended-release naltrexone reduced relapse rates among criminal justice-involved adults with a history of opioid dependence.
- Treatment of opioid-dependent pregnant women with methadone or buprenorphine IMPROVES OUTCOMES for their babies.
MAT reduces symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome and length of hospital stay. Babies being born with chemical dependency is a major problem in the United States. Using MAT will reduce this issue and reduce infant mortality due to substance abuse.
New medications are also proven to be effective. In 2016, the FDA approved of a drug call Probuphine. Probuphine is a buprenorphine implant. It is implanted under the skin and proved regular doses of buprenorphine over a 6 month period. This significantly reduces an individual’s ability to divert from treatment or to abuse the substance. It eliminates the need for daily dosing and the patient can just focus on therapy and get their life in order.
Researchers are also currently developing vaccines to prevent opioid addiction. These vaccines target opioids in the bloodstream and eliminate them before they are able to reach the brain and produce a euphoric high. It is likely these vaccines will be highly effective in preventing opioid addiction.
Another approach being explored is called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. This is a non-invasive technique that may be effective in treating those currently dependent on opioids. It may limit cravings and the desired effects produced by the drugs.