Across the country, the stigma around medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is slowly subsiding, and many more people who suffer from addiction are accessing medication that can save their lives. A growing chorus of leaders in healthcare, public policy, law enforcement, and other areas of expertise agree that MAT is a critical pillar of care for people suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD).
But misunderstandings remain, and MAT is still vastly underutilized.
Through our work providing MAT at outpatient centers throughout the country, we at CleanSlate encounter many of these misunderstandings. Our work involves educating the public almost as much as providing treatment. Erasing the stigma of addiction, as well as the stigma of MAT, is a goal we strive for every day.
Toward that end, we’re kicking off MAT Facts, a new blog series to answer some common questions - and to correct misperceptions - surrounding addiction and MAT.
We’ll start things off with the most basic question surrounding medication-assisted treatment: what, exactly, is it?
What is medication-assisted treatment?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), MAT is the use of “behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders.”
MAT is used for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD), which is an addiction to opioids, such as heroin, or to prescription painkillers that contain opiates. MAT can also be used to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD), which we will address in a separate blog.
MAT is a highly effective approach to recovery for individuals with addiction to opioids, backed by extensive research that has proven that MAT:
Helps people survive addiction
Helps people stay in recovery
Helps people find jobs and stay employed
Decreases use of illicit drugs
Decreases criminal activity associated with drug use
Helps women who are pregnant improve their chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby
- Lowers a person’s risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C by reducing the potential for relapse
Related blog: Stories Of Recovery: From Jail And "Dysfunctional" To A Healthcare Professional Treating Others With Addiction
What MAT is not
Perhaps the most important myth to de-bunk is that MAT is a way to replace one drug with another drug, one addiction for another. Some MAT medications share properties with opioids that are abused, but MAT under a doctor’s care (i.e. our Richmond Suboxone doctor) is fundamentally different from active addiction in many ways:
- MAT is prescribed by a trained clinician and is a critical part of treatment proven to save and improve lives.
- MAT is taken once a day, or in some cases, once a month.
- Because MAT does not produce a high when taken as directed, patients do not seek higher and higher doses and are quite comfortable with a stable dose.
- When addicted to a drug, a person needs to take more and more to get the same effect, and often spends their days and nights seeking and using the drug.
Related blog: Stigma Against Addiction Medication Fading, Ringing In Hopeful Signs For Opioid Epidemic In 2019
MAT reduces cravings and withdrawal
Addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease. Addiction to opioids alters brain chemistry in such a way that makes it extremely difficult - often impossible - for individuals to simply quit abusing drugs on their own. When opioids are not present in the body of someone who is addicted, they become very sick, which is known as withdrawal.
The goal of MAT is to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Medications used with MAT normalize the brain and physiological chemistry of users so that they are not overwhelmed with the sickness of withdrawal and uncontrollable cravings to resume their drug use. Medications help prevent a person from relapsing and possibly overdosing.
There are three addiction medications which have been approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA): buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. All three approved medications are safe, and are effective in helping people break the cycle of craving and using illicit opioids.
If used correctly as prescribed, people don’t get high off of these drugs. In fact, these drugs block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids. Instead, people feel “normal” again, the way they used to feel before they began misusing drugs. Their cravings become manageable and their body functions stabilize.
When the brain chemistry and physical functions of a person are stabilized, that individual has the capacity to engage in other aspects of his recovery, such as therapy.
Related blog: Lilian's Story: Pregnant And Addicted To Opioids
MAT is convenient and affordable
MAT can be provided on an outpatient basis, making it a convenient and cost-effective way to treat addiction. People who are treated at outpatient MAT centers have an experience just like a standard doctor’s appointment, which allows individuals to pursue recovery without disruption to other responsibilities, such as their families or jobs. Many MAT programs are covered by Medicaid or private insurance, making it affordable to any individual who is ready for help.
Each patient is unique. High-quality MAT programs tailor each treatment plan to the individual, addressing the complex experiences and circumstances that led each person to addiction and which must be addressed to achieve and maintain recovery.
Related blog: Can I Afford Addiction Treatment?
At CleanSlate, each treatment plan varies widely, reflecting the diversity of all people who walk into our doors. And make no mistake, the opioid epidemic is affecting us all - regardless of age, gender, color, culture, or class. Our physicians and staff help each patient with the appropriate medication, services, and support needed to get and stay healthy and to build a hopeful future.
Because OUD is a chronic disease, MAT may need to be used on an ongoing basis. “There is no maximum recommended duration of maintenance treatment,” according to the FDA, “and for some patients, treatment may continue indefinitely.” This should be viewed no differently than medications used for other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or asthma.
The goal of MAT is full recovery, where individuals regain control of their lives and their futures.
CleanSlate treats patients suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction with medications and a continuum of care to support each individual's journey to recovery. If you or someone you love needs help, contact us at 833-505-HOPE, or visit our website at www.cleanslatecenters.com to find the center nearest you.
Recovery from addiction includes recovering trust.
Download our free Pocket Guide to learn more about the emotional challenges that many patients face on their road to recovery.