Little Cities of Hope: Medication Assisted Treatment

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By Cacilia Jensen

Medication assisted treatment, more commonly referred to as MAT, has been around for decades to treat substance use disorders and has a large body of research behind it showing its effectiveness. But, along with that, MAT can also be connected to a cloud of stigma and shame for those that utilize it as a treatment option. So, let’s talk about MAT what it is, why it works and how to help someone find out if MAT is the right treatment option for them and their recovery.

MAT is an evidence-based method of helping people who are experiencing opioid use disorder find long-term recovery and wellness. It combines the use of FDA-approved medications with counseling and behavioral therapy to reduce the impact of substance use and help people stay in recovery. This evidence-supported practice helps improve the lives and wellbeing of individuals, and is one of many pathways to long-term recovery.

There are three main medications that are commonly used in MAT treatment: methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone.

  • Methadone was approved by the FDA for treating opioid use disorder in 1972, which shows just how long this medication has been around for treatment. Methadone is a full agonist, which means that it fully binds to opioid receptors in the brain, eliminating withdrawal symptoms and helps to reduce cravings. The effects of this medication are different than when a person uses prescription opioids or heroin because methadone, while it does bind to the opioid receptors fully, has a tighter bond that lasts over a longer timeframe. Treatment doses also do not produce a euphoria like that of prescription opioid misuse and heroin, which allows an individual to actively gain back control of their life in ways they may have been unable to while using opioids illicitly.
  • Buprenorphine was approved for clinical use in treating opioid use disorder in 2002 by the FDA. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist, which means that it partially turns the opioid receptors on in the brain, unlike that of methadone, which fully turns on the receptors. Buprenorphine is also long lasting, so individuals may not need to take the medication every day depending on their treatment needs. Buprenorphine works in similar ways as methadone in that it reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings, allowing individuals to be able to enter and stay in long-term recovery.
  • Naltrexone has been FDA approved to treat opioid use disorder since 1984, which also shows its longevity and effectiveness in treatment. Naltrexone is different from methadone and buprenorphine in that it is an antagonist and does not turn on the opioid receptors in the brain at all, but rather blocks any effects of prescription opioids and heroin in the brain. This means that an individual using naltrexone for a treatment option will not feel any euphoric effects of prescription opioids or heroin. It also helps reduce cravings. Naltrexone is used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder as well.

One major benefit of MAT is that it reduces the risk of overdose deaths. When an individual enters into abstinence-based treatment, their risk of overdose once they leave treatment is greatly increased. Studies consistently show 60% of individuals relapse within 90 days of leaving a residential treatment facility. This is because individual’s tolerance levels for the substances they were using before treatment are lowered and their risk of relapse is high without any support once they leave the facility. If an individual does relapse and uses the same dose of a substance they were using before treatment, their risk of overdose is high. MAT helps manage the biological and chemical aspects of substance use disorder in the brain and body so that individuals can maintain recovery.

MAT is one more tool in the toolbox of treatment options that can be helpful for individuals struggling with opioid use disorder. If you have questions about MAT options, please contact your doctor or reach out to Operation Recovery for more information at (435) 299-2409. It is important to stress that MAT is most effective in combination with behavioral health therapy. While medication is effective, it is also important for individuals to understand the behavioral health aspects of Substance Use Disorder and how to best manage the disease.

Please feel free to check out these additional resources to learn more:

For more information and to learn more, please attend our upcoming Online Community Education Event Webinar on Tuesday, April 28 at 9 a.m. To register, please visit: bit.ly/2RdC5OT The event password is “coal”.

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