Medication-assisted treatment or MAT is a viable form of ongoing maintenance for a variety of substance abuse-related conditions, specifically opioid and alcohol addiction. Many patients experience considerable success managing their cravings and overcoming withdrawal symptoms with the help of these drugs. Doctors and clinicians are further innovating medication-assisted treatment by the day and expanding its scope for the benefit of more and more patients—sounds great, right? Hold on. As effective and beneficial as these drugs can be, their use requires a thorough education regarding their effects and potential for addiction, as well as an understanding of how they may impact you. Each person’s substance abuse history is unique and the reality is that some patients simply aren’t eligible for medication-assisted treatment.
What Kind of Medications are Used in MAT?
The three most common types of medications used in medication-assisted treatment are methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone) and naltrexone (Vivitrol). Each of these medications carries their own benefits and risks and should be discussed with a doctor prior to use:
- Methadone – Methadone is used to treat opioid addiction by reducing long-term cravings. There are two things to know about methadone from the start: misuse is common and it can be addictive and deadly. It can also cause a variety of adverse side effects, including slowed breathing, heart rhythm disorder and more. The drug is administered at designated clinics to prevent the possibility of diversion. It is dispensed at intervals prescribed by their physicians. Patients are often methadone for months and even years, depending on progress.
- Buprenorphine – Commonly prescribed in the sublingual dissolvable strip form known as Suboxone, buprenorphine is used to treat opioids, also by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Unlike methadone, which requires a trip to specialized clinic, patients may be able to receive buprenorphine-based maintenance by their physician. Although the patient-cap on Suboxone has expanded in recent years, it still limits the number of patients to which doctors can simultaneously prescribe the drug to 275. The danger of Suboxone addiction is incredibly high, and has been a particularly large problem in US prisons.
- Naltrexone – Naltrexone is administered in few different forms, such as a generic pill, the brand-name Revia and a once-a-month injection known as Vivitrol. Vivitrol is a slow-acting medication, enabling patients to get relief from cravings and withdrawal symptoms for 30 days at a time. To date, it represents the safest and most diversion-proof form of medication-assisted treatment; however, naltrexone still poses a variety of different risks.
NOT A Magic Pill
Medication-assisted treatment includes the word “assisted” for a reason. It is not meant to replace any other aspect of treatment and should occur right alongside ongoing therapy and counseling. It’s also imperative that patients consult their physicians prior to taking any maintenance medications and follow their directives through the entire course of treatment. These are not catch-all remedies that will cure addicts overnight; however, they can be a viable resource in the continued fight against drug and alcohol dependency.