Medication-Assisted Treatment Program

Medication-Assisted Treatment Program

Whenever you hear about drug addiction treatment, you may think of going to a rehabilitation center with white rooms. You may imagine being in bed, curled up in a fetal position, shaking as your body is deprived of the substances you’re addicted to as a nurse gives you a sponge bath or something before you have to go to a group therapy session.

This is not the only way to treat severe substance use disorder. Nowadays, there are also medication-assisted treatment programs that can help you wean off of the drugs and alcohol while not having to suffer through withdrawals. Let’s take a look at medication-assisted treatment and how it can help you achieve sobriety.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorder (SUD), which is a chronic condition with long-term effects. It has become a primary treatment method for alcoholism and opioid use disorder (OUD), as withdrawal from opioids can be incredibly debilitating. Meanwhile, alcohol withdrawal is potentially fatal.

More must be done to facilitate treatment options and the development of therapies to address the stigma of OUD treatment, especially medication-assisted treatment that uses drugs to treat drug addiction. Meanwhile, new and more effective ways to administer medical-assisted treatment for OUD and other SUD whenever necessary.

For some, MAT is a temporary treatment that accelerates them to sobriety. However, for others, it can be a permanent fixture in their lives, making sure they stay away from drugs for good. While it takes more than just taking medication to beat addiction, MAT is a viable option for helping with that endeavor.

The Need for Medication-Assisted Treatment

MAT has become a fixture in OUD as the opioid crisis worsened, with millions addicted and too many of them resulting in overdose deaths. As a prominent part of a comprehensive treatment regimen, MAT seeks to get patients off of opioids as quickly and cleanly as possible by using substitute opioids that are easier to withdraw from in order to help them taper off.

Despite the effectiveness of MAT, overdose deaths from OUD have continued to climb over the years. It reached a peak of 71,148 in 2019, which was almost a 5% increase over 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse with more people who were stuck in their homes leaning on opioids to cope, then transitioning to other derivatives due to short supply.

There’s now more overdose deaths in a single year than the total number of deaths in the US military during the whole of the Vietnam War. Most people would find it unbelievable that drugs killed more people than an actual war, but that’s exactly what has happened. Combine that with alcohol-related deaths, which is around 93,000 annually, and you got a number that’s just staggering.

This is why MAT is now needed more than ever. Meanwhile, detractors of MAT beg to differ since using drugs to combat drug addiction does seem to be counterintuitive and self-defeating. The main argument against it is that it tends to turn from medication assistance into medication maintenance, that it just perpetuates addiction and gives it a nice name.

However, proponents of MAT point out short-term studies to prove its efficacy. They regard traditional, abstinence-based treatment as outdated and limited in effectiveness. As a viable alternative, MAT is seen as a way to improve an opioid addict’s quality of life.

Medications Used in MAT

The Food and Drug Administration has approved three drugs for OUD treatment —buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. They’re opioid derivatives meant to help patients taper off and safely withdraw from opioid addiction, coupled with counseling and psychosocial support.

Those who seek MAT for OUD treatment may be given access to all three options in order to find out which one works best for their particular case. Since OUD is usually a chronic condition, regular assessment is needed to see if the patient needs to continue with MAT to maintain their sobriety.

As for those who are in danger of overdosing on opioids, there’s naloxone. It’s a life-saving drug that can reverse the toxic effects of opioid overdose. It’s now considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an essential drug, one of a few that’s truly needed for a functioning health care system.

As for alcoholism, withdrawals can be fatal. Patients who quit cold turkey after years of drinking can experience delirium tremens (DT), which has then shaking and convulsing before succumbing to heart complications due to the body not being able to take being cut off from alcohol.

To address this problem, the alcoholic must be administered alcohol in progressively smaller amounts until they’re able to safely withdraw. Due to this, relapse is common and easy to fall into. In response, there are three drugs that can be used in conjunction to make alcohol withdrawal more manageable.

These are acamprosate, which stabilizes chemical signals in the brain that are disrupted by alcohol withdrawal; disulfiram, which makes alcohol unpalatable; and naltrexone, which makes the body incapable of getting a buzz from alcohol.

Effectiveness of Medication-Assisted Treatment

Around 2 million people are beset by opioid use disorder in 2018, either hooked on prescription pain medication containing opiates like oxycodone or harder opiates like heroin. For patients who have developed a deep dependence on opioids, MAT proves to be a clinically effective harm-reduction strategy. It provides an alternative to in-patient detoxification treatment that can be a harrowing experience that discourages them from seeking further help.

MAT provides a more comprehensive and individually tailored program that can be combined with behavioral therapy and holistic treatment, which can all address the needs of most patients and help them achieve sobriety in the long term. After all, the ultimate goal of MAT is full recovery, letting patients be able to take back control of their lives.

The progressive goals of MAT starts with improving patient survival, then decreasing dependence on the drugs over time, then finally getting them off opioids entirely. That should then increase the patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment, as well as improve birth outcomes among pregnant women who have OUD.

In the grand scale of things, MAT aims to increase treatment retention and decrease illicit opiate use and criminal activities associated with OUD. There’s also research that shows how MAT can contribute to lowering the risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C brought through repeated use of needles. MAT can significantly reduce the potential for relapse, making long-term sobriety a tangible possibility.

Patient Rights in Medication-Assisted Treatment

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has seen how crucial it is to educate people on what MAT is, as well as the importance of patient rights. Many people choose not to seek help due to being embarrassed about having to lower their head and seek assistance for having lost control over their lives. This is why patient confidentiality is important, especially in drug treatment.

Under the Confidentiality Regulation under Title 42 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), personal health information related to substance use and alcohol treatment must be handled with a higher degree of confidentiality compared to other medical information. This is treated as top priority for patient rights, a fact that should encourage you to seek help when you need it.

Child Safety in Medication-Assisted Treatment

Meanwhile, there’s also the matter of child safety during one’s MAT. The presence of medication is always a concern when there are children present. There are plenty of reasons why curious children may get a hold of medication.

For instance, methadone in liquid form is colored, which may be mistaken by children as juice or soft drink. Really young children may not know what pills are and can get hold of medication and think they’re candy. If they somehow consume medications used in MAT, they can overdose and die. Therefore, they must be told to never consume them and to keep them out of reach.

It may not be a good idea to never tell them about it and just hide them. Children love to explore and are inquisitive, so they may still find your medication even if you lock them away and store them in a high place. Properly educating your children on what they should never


MAT is not the be-all-end-all treatment for OUD, but merely one of the few viable options available to those looking for help with their drug and alcohol problem. It must be said that MAT is not something you can just ask for and it will be given to you, but something that requires assessment in order to make sure that it’s the right treatment path for you.

We here in Regency Recovery Wellness Center can guide you through treatment options and help you find the treatment program that’s right for your situation, including medication-assisted treatment. If you’re looking to change and improve your life and leave opiate addiction behind, we can help you achieve long-term sobriety and lead a better life.

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