Medication Assisted Treatment

By Patrick O’Neil

If you or a loved one are in the throes of addiction you already know how hard it is to stop using—let alone get sober and stay sober. Maybe the traditional treatment options haven’t worked. Or the cravings are so intense it all seems so futile. The good news is treatment for substance abuse is ever evolving and getting better. Medication Assisted Treatment, or simply MAT, is one possible option used to treat opioid and alcohol dependency. 

Medicated Assisted Treatment combines medication with counseling and behavioral therapies in order to help addicts and alcoholics maintain their recovery. The medications used with MAT, Naltrexone and Vivitrol, block the effects of opiates and change the way the brain reacts to alcohol—reducing cravings and preventing the addict or alcoholic from getting high. Naltrexone is available in three forms: tablet, injectable and implant device. Vivitrol is an injectable extended-release form of Naltrexone that is administered once a month. Both are prescribed and dispensed by a doctor. Compared to Methadone and Suboxone, medications that historically have been used to treat opiate addiction, Naltrexone and Vivitrol are not habit forming, have no potential to be abused, and there is no concern the addict will just substitute one substance for the other and continue to be addicted. 

While drugs such as Methadone can be effective for some populations, most Methadone maintenance programs are not abstinence orientation. Meaning the goal isn’t to get the addict off drugs. Unfortunately without the proper added counseling that MAT provides, the majority of those on Methadone continue to use other drugs. According to former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, “By its very definition, Medication Assisted Treatment has to include more than medication alone. People need to recognize that MAT includes counseling and other services as well as medication, and that it has also been proven to work. We know MAT is effective in reducing the number of overdoses and the number of relapses. It also enables people to ultimately live healthy and productive lives.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration describes Medication Assisted Treatment as “A whole patient approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.” They further define their assessment by stating, “MAT provides a more comprehensive, individually tailored program of medication and behavioral therapy. MAT also includes support services that address the needs of most patients. The ultimate goal of MAT is full recovery, including the ability to live a self-directed life.” 

In 2018 the American Medical Association called on policy makers in the government and health industry to support Medication Assisted Treatment. In response to the ever-growing opioid epidemic, Dr. Patrice Harris, chair of the AMA’s Opioid Task Force, was quoted as saying, “We know what works. We can point to states where making access to Medication Assisted Treatment has been a priority, and the mortality rates are going down. We need to act with resolve as we have with other public health epidemics. By putting resources into treatment, we have responded effectively to other crises. Our patients diagnosed with substance use disorders deserve no less.

I think the most effective weapon we have in the fight against addiction is compassion,” explains Dr. Murthy. “What we care about are what are the strategies that are going to help as many people with substance use disorders as possible to live healthy and productive lives; what strategies will reduce their chances of overdoses and relapses. And fortunately we have multiple strategies that will lead in many cases to those outcomes. Given the success of different strategies with different people, it’s important that we make the options that are available equally accessible to people. A huge misconception out there about Medication Assisted Treatment is that it’s not effective. This is why it’s so important to raise awareness about the effectiveness of these existing strategies like MAT that do work.” 

If you have tried other treatment options, medications, and modalities, maybe MAT is the one for you. If you’re wondering how to get the most out of Medication Assisted Treatment CAST Centers is here to help. Our team believes that combining medication with group therapy and weekly one on one counseling provides the best solution for success. Allowing you to find the freedom to be your best self.  

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