Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of certain medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Research shows that a combination of the two can successfully treat Opioid as well as alcohol use disorders, and for some people struggling with addiction, MAT can make the difference between the vicious cycle of relapse or long-term recovery. Currently, there are several treatment protocols to treat alcohol and Opioid use disorders briefly discussed below.
MAT is used for the treatment of addiction to opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers that contain opiates. It is also used for Alcohol use disorders. The prescribed medication operates to normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and normalize body functions without the negative effects of the abused drug. MAT programs are clinically driven and tailored to meet each patient’s needs. In 2013, an estimated 1.8 million people had an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers, and about 517,000 had an opioid use disorder related to heroin use. MAT has proved to be clinically effective and to significantly reduce the need for inpatient detoxification services for these individuals. MAT provides a more comprehensive, individually tailored program of medication and behavioral therapy. The ultimate goal of MAT is a full recovery, giving the patient a greater success in sustaining long-term recovery. This treatment approach has been shown to:
- Improve patient survival
- Increase retention in treatment
- Decrease illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders
- Increase patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment
- Improve birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant
Research has shown some of the ancillary positive effects of MAT is the risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C has been reduced largely in part because of lower relapse rates. Unfortunately, MAT is greatly underused. For instance, according to SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) 2002-2010, the proportion of heroin admissions with treatment plans that included receiving medication-assisted opioid therapy fell from 35% in 2002 to 28% in 2010. The slow adoption of these evidence-based treatment options for alcohol and opioid dependence is partly due to misconceptions about substituting one drug for another.
Medically Assisted Treatment Can Help
When a person has become physically dependent upon an opioid drug, they face a painful withdrawal syndrome if they try to suddenly stop taking their drug of choice. These symptoms can persist for up to a month and more and include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Drug craving
- Muscle, joint and bone pain
- Stomach pain
- Restless leg syndrome
These symptoms can be quickly relieved by the administration of an opioid. Addicts know this. Many fall back into addiction just to relieve the awful withdrawal symptoms, which can be so intense that an addicted person will do almost anything to obtain relief. Fear of withdrawal is the main reason why many people remain addicted. It’s just too much to face and endure.
Overall, MAT has helped many people regain their lives. It’s effective, and it works. It’s a viable option for those people who would not be able to abstain from their opioid drug of choice without it.
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