Addiction is a complicated and difficult illness for anyone and everyone involved. For most people, the process of getting clean is a slow and difficult one, filled with many obstacles. It takes a lot of trial and error and is often just as painful and frustrating for loved ones as it is for the person struggling with a substance use disorder. From an outside perspective, it can be extremely hard to understand and many are left asking “why can’t you just stop?” In reality, for the person with addiction, it’s never that easy because addiction IS a disease. It can very easily take over your life and cause you to lose everything you once held close. So how do we address such an uncaring and baffling disease?
There are many different types of addiction therapy and treatment, from peer support programs to inpatient detox. One approach that has recently gained attention and proven to be extremely effective is Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT. MAT typically uses a mix of medication and therapy to address addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, after 18 months, 80% of patients using MAT reported maintaining abstinence compared to only 36% of patients who were not.1
How does MAT work?
MAT typically consists of the use of either methadone or buprenorphine to assist a person with a substance use disorder in dealing with cravings while they receive the therapy needed to address long-term issues. Methadone has been around and in use for over 50 years and, until recently, was the only drug used to address long term opioid dependency. Since the Drug Addiction Treatment Act was passed by congress in 2000, the use of buprenorphine for medication addiction treatment has increased in popularity. Buprenorphine can be prescribed for MAT in an outpatient doctor’s office, while methadone can only be prescribed for MAT at a licensed Opioid Treatment Program which can be more difficult for patients to access.2
What is buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine, also known as Subutex or Suboxone, is known as a “partial agonist opioid.” Like other opioids, buprenorphine contains chemicals that link with the same receptors in the brain to produce feelings of well-being and reduce pain. However, because buprenorphine is only a partial agonist opioid, it does not produce the same level of euphoria or central nervous system suppression as full agonist opioids (like heroin, morphine or methadone), but does provide enough to deter a patient from experiencing cravings or withdrawal.3 This is why buprenorphine can be extremely helpful with things like co-occurring behavioral health disorders. Because the medication manages withdrawal symptoms and cravings, it allows for underlying conditions to be treated prior to tackling the uncomfortable physical ones.
How is buprenorphine prescribed?
Buprenorphine can be used as a short-term or a long-term medication. It is obtained via prescription only and patients typically receive it at either a clinic or while in detox. Long term use of buprenorphine is monitored by specially trained healthcare professionals. These skilled caregivers develop a treatment plan that tracks a patient’s use and dosage, and makes sure they are receiving and taking the right amount of medication. In detox, buprenorphine is used to counter withdrawals and wean a patient off of street opiates. When a patient arrives in detox they are started on a predetermined dosage of buprenorphine to counter withdrawals, then slowly weaned off to make the withdrawal experience as comfortable as possible.
Is MAT right for me or my loved one?
What works for one person often does not work for another. This is why when it comes to treating the disease of addiction there is no such thing as one size fits all. Each individual has their own list of experiences and issues that may or may not be contributing to the disease. That said, MAT has been proven to be an exceptional form of treatment and one of the best currently available.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or a mental health condition, Citizen Advocates is here to help. We offer a full range of mental health, addiction recovery, and intellectual and developmental disability services, including youth services and community housing and living.