What is Medication Assisted Treatment and is it effective?

Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, is the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders and prevent opioid overdose.1 MAT can be pivotal in helping someone with an opioid use disorder (OUD) get off, and stay off, opioids. To some, it seems like using opioids to treat OUD is a fool’s errand, but they have proven to be highly effective for some. These medications relieve the withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings that cause chemical imbalances in the body. MAT programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of an abused opioid.1 There is, of course, the potential for abuse, but for many, MAT has been the life saving treatment that helped them achieve sustained recovery. MAT can’t be used independently, someone with OUD must also engage in counselling and behavioral therapy if they hope to maintain abstinence from opioids. Below are a few of the most commonly used medications for MAT and a bit about them…

Most people have heard of methadone, it’s been used in treating drug withdrawal since the 60’s. Methadone tricks the brain into thinking it’s still getting the abused drug. In fact, the person is not getting high from it and feels normal, so withdrawal doesn’t occur.1 That enables the person with OUD to focus on counseling and behavioral therapy.

Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks the effects of opioids rendering them ineffective. It can be given in pill form or by injection. There is no abuse potential as it does not contain an opioid in any form.

Buprenorphine, like methadone, suppresses and reduces cravings for the abused opioid. It can come in a pill form, sublingual tablet or film, an implanted device, or as an injection.1 It is a partial agonist, meaning it produces effects such as euphoria or respiratory depression at low to moderate doses, however, these effects are weaker than full opioid agonists such as heroin and methadone.1 In some cases (such as Suboxone), it is combined with naloxone (not to be confused with naltrexone), which is an opioid antagonist, or blocker2, to reduce to potential for abuse.

Again, MAT must be accompanied by counselling and behavioral therapy. MAT is not a cure for addiction. MAT is one piece of a recovery program. MAT can be effective, but it doesn’t work, and may not be appropriate, for everyone with an OUD.

For more information, visit the websites below. Have you or someone you know used MAT? Was it effective? Let’s start a conversation and learn more about what works for people with OUD. No, it doesn’t work for everyone, but could it work for YOU OR SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT?

1-https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment

2-https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Treatment/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Buprenorphine/Buprenorphine-Naloxone-(Suboxone)

About the Author

Kristin Waite-Labott is a registered nurse and recovering addict who has firsthand experience with the challenges of addiction. She now works as the Head Nurse Coach at Veritus, a virtual treatment program for nurses with substance use and mental health disorders, and is dedicated to helping nurses overcome addiction and making a difference in the lives of others. Kristin is passionate about addressing the growing problem of addiction among healthcare professionals and encourages open discussions and action to prevent it from spreading further.

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