Medication Assisted Treatment

Often referred to as MAT, is one of a suite of treatment options for individuals addicted to specific drugs. For people addicted to opioids, including heroin and some prescription painkillers, MAT may be the safest and most effective type of treatment available.

Over 2 million Americans had a diagnosed opioid use disorder as of 2018, and approximately 130 people in the US die each day from opioid-related overdoses.

What Is MAT Therapy and How Can it Help?

The general idea behind MAT is to give the patient controlled doses of medication in a safe way to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings for the abused opioid drug.

This therapy for substance abuse is a whole-patient approach to treatment, so it isn’t simply a matter of giving the addicted individual medication. MAT is combined with behavioral therapy to help the patient discover how to break the cycle of addiction. Other treatments often combined include group therapy sessions, 12-step programs, individual counseling and family therapy.

Doctors have to be certified to treat patients using this therapy approach, and the medication used is FDA approved.

When Is Medication Assisted Rehab Necessary?

Because no drug addiction treatment is appropriate for every person, the determination of when MAT is necessary should be made by a doctor in charge of treatment. Often, it is used for patients addicted to opioids, although this type of treatment option may sometimes be available for addiction to other drugs.

Commonly Used Medications for Drug Rehab Treatment

Some common approved drugs used in treatment for substance abuse include:

Methadone

Methadone is a long-acting opioid used to stabilize the body and brain during treatment. It affects the brain in ways that mimic the activity of prescription opioids and illicit opioid drugs. It is only available through clinics regulated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or through authorized hospitals. Methadone is usually used at a controlled dose to stabilize someone in withdrawal from opioid addiction, and then the dose is lowered to keep symptoms and cravings at bay during a maintenance period. The eventual goal is to taper the dose until the patient no longer needs methadone.

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine attaches to the same receptors in the brain as addictive opioid drugs, so the opioids cannot attach themselves there. This reduces withdrawal symptoms without causing an associated high as long as the drug is taken as prescribed. The prescribing physician monitors buprenorphine use and tapers off the dose over time.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone works by blocking access to the brain receptors that opioid drugs use. Because naltrexone doesn’t attach to the receptors directly, it doesn’t cause any of the effects that opioids do, so there is no high associated with this medication and naltrexone is not considered addictive.

Suboxone

Suboxone is a blend of two medications, buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone works by both attaching directly to the receptors and blocking them so opioids can’t reach them.

How Long Does Treatment Last?

The length of MAT depends on the individual. Some people need therapy to get through the intense symptoms of withdrawal and can move into more therapy-based interventions afterward. For others, MAT lasts longer, particularly if the individual has previous issues with relapses.

In most cases, the doctor devises a tapered schedule for weaning the person off the medication over a few months once the intense withdrawal symptoms have subsided.

The Effectiveness of Treatment

Therapy for opioid abuse tends to be fairly effective. In fact, treatment combining an FDA-approved medication and psychotherapy has been shown to be more effective than behavioral therapy or medication when used alone.

MAT helps by:

  • Reducing drug cravings
  • Easing withdrawal symptoms during the early phases of detox and recovery
  • Letting the recovering individual focus on developing long-term strategies for sobriety instead of on managing withdrawal symptoms
  • Reducing the risk of overdose and death
  • Improving treatment compliance

How Treatment Works

Before MAT can begin, the treatment team consults with the team physician to determine whether it is appropriate and which medicine to use. The person begins taking the drug after stopping opioid use completely and once mild withdrawal symptoms have begun.

Medication is typically prescribed in stages:

  • During the first stage, the induction stage, the physician establishes how much of the medicine is needed, so the dose might change based on the person’s biological response to the medication.
  • In the second stage, stabilization, the physician determines the minimum dose needed to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms and monitors the patient to watch for any side effects. Dose adjustments are made as needed, but during the stabilization phase the basic dose remains fairly consistent.
  • During maintenance, the person continues to take a steady prescribed dose on a regular basis.
  • Once treatment is near the end, there is a tapering phase during which the doctor reduces the dose gradually until the person no longer needs the medication to live a sober lifestyle.

Potential Issues with MAT

While treatment offers specific benefits for opioid abuse and addiction disorders, there are a few potential drawbacks. Some of the medications used for treatment cause side effects that could be unpleasant. Some also may have the potential for addiction themselves, which is why it’s essential for a doctor to supervise the use of medication during drug abuse treatment. Someone who has been in treatment may develop a lowered tolerance to the addictive drug, which could increase the risk of an overdose if a relapse should occur.

It offers an effective option for breaking free of opioid addiction, but MAT only works if used as part of an overall holistic treatment plan. In addition to MAT, the recovering individual should also receive counseling and aftercare services to ensure a full recovery from drug abuse. 

If you believe you or a loved one is in need of MAT services to aid in your addiction recovery, contact Recovery at the Crossroads today at 888-342-3881.