SAMHSA Publishes Best Practices on Medication-Assisted Treatment

26 February 2018
SAMHSA's new medication-assisted treatment guidelines.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has codified and published a set of guidelines and best practices for dealing with medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Designated as Treatment Improvement Protocol 63, the guidelines were established to help health care professionals better understand medications that can be used to treat Americans with opioid use disorder (OUD). Medication-assisted treatment is quickly becoming one of the most viable resources in helping patients overcome opioid use disorder. Currently there are three medications that are approved to treatment (buprenorphine, naltrexone and methadone). Buprenorphine is commonly sold under the brand-name Suboxone and naltrexone is often administered in the once-a-month injectable medication known as Vivitrol.

What Do the New Guidelines Say?

TIP 63 essentially makes the case for expanding medication-assisted treatment, citing that people can and do recover with this treatment resource when it’s mixed with other modalities like group therapy and behavior modification. TIP 63 is part of SAMHSA’s larger response to the opioid crisis. More access to treatment with OUD medications is critical to closing the gap between treatment need and treatment availability and an important public health strategy. Data indicate that OUD-treating medications are both cost effective and cost beneficial. Currently, only a third of treatment providers across the country offer medication-assisted treatment, a number that HHS Secretary Alex Azar has recently said he’d like to see go up.

The Goal of MAT

Medication-Assisted Treatment was developed to help mitigate cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms, so patients can move in their recovery unencumbered by the heightened threat of relapse. While drugs like Suboxone and methadone have proven relatively easy to divert and abuse, they’ve also proven to be remarkably effective for many patients. Proponents and advocates of MAT have been exploring further safeguards to prevent misuse to give patients the full healing benefits without rendering them vulnerable to further addiction.