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Last Updated on March 25, 2022 by Randy Withers, LCMHC

Substance abuse and addiction can have a devastating impact on the lives of those affected and their loved ones. Yet, seeking treatment and rehabilitation is a long and winding road with mixed results. Health inequities and socioeconomic factors influence whether someone can attain the prolonged treatment they need.

Medication-assisted treatment is becoming more accessible for those on a recovery journey. Here’s what you need to know about medication-assisted treatment and some harmful myths about this option.

What You Should Know About Medication-Assisted Treatment
What You Should Know About Medication-Assisted Treatment

The State of the Opioid Crisis

While many people are aware of the opioid crisis, there are plenty of misconceptions around how it started and how it connects with illegal substance use. 

Oxycontin was introduced in the 1990s as a powerful painkiller lasting 12 hours per dose, compared to alternatives that lasted 4-6 hours. This was a result of the slow-release coating on the pills. This drug was released and approved with bold marketing claims stating that Oxycontin was significantly less addictive than other painkillers— a statement we now know to be false and has since led to $8.3 billion in fines to Purdue Pharma. 

As Oxycontin is a brand-name prescription drug, many of those impacted by addiction found themselves unable to access or afford their desired substance. This inaccessibility led to a paradigm shift in heroin use in the early 2000s and, more recently, fentanyl in the last decade. 

While prescription opioid-related and heroin-related deaths have decreased over the past decade, synthetic opioid-related overdoses continue to skyrocket.  

Why does this information matter?

It’s integral for family members, community members, and friends to understand that while feelings of anger, grief, and resentment are natural, the system was stacked against these individuals. A shift in focus from criminalization to creating compassionate resources and dedicating research to medical interventions is a must.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medication to combat cravings and assist with the recovery process. There are a few government-approved forms of MAT that play different roles in the recovery process. 

Before searching for a “MAT doctor near me” it’s important to know that MAT isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It works in partnership with other forms of treatment to promote safe, sustainable recovery. Furthermore, some forms of MAT won’t be conducive for everyone struggling with addiction.

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

The benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment outweigh the disadvantages. Here are the three primary benefits of using this recovery tool.

Safer Withdrawal

Withdrawing from a substance can be incredibly dangerous, especially opioids. Heart and blood pressure irregularities can lead to a heart attack during cold-turkey detox. At the same time, excessive sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea can cause extensive dehydration could cause shock leading to death.

MAT helps people manage withdrawal symptoms while sustainably detoxing under medical supervision, creating both a safer and more humane way to start recovering.

Reduction in Overdose Risk

Using Medication-Assisted Treatment significantly decreases the risk of relapse and overdose in those facing addiction. One study of 17,568 opioid users showed a decrease in opioid overdose deaths ranging from 38-59%, depending on the MAT intervention used. 

In layman’s terms, MAT can help keep those with addiction alive to progress through their recovery without their lives being cut tragically short.

Assists with Overall Treatment

Opioid addiction is incredibly powerful, forcing intrusive and obsessive thoughts for those trying to focus on recovery. Beyond the physical cravings, the neurological need for the substance can be overwhelming, especially when faced with triggers. It can be difficult to truly benefit from the other aspects of treatment, like cognitive behavioral therapy.

MAT can help minimize some of those overwhelming feelings so those affected can focus on the deep work ahead. As such, MAT can improve retention and the effectiveness of treatment programs.

Medication-Assisted Treatment. Courtesy, YouTube.

Downsides of Medication-Assisted Treatment

As with any type of medical intervention, there are downsides to consider with MAT. Here are a few issues with MAT.

Requires Close Monitoring

Medication-Assisted Treatment requires close supervision from a qualified medical professional, which can be a significant time commitment for those facing addiction. Depending on the course of treatment, the patient may require multiple visits per day to start— though this typically lessens over time. Finding a qualified MAT doctor can also be challenging in some areas. 

Not a Standalone Treatment

MAT isn’t a standalone treatment or solution; it’s a stepping stone and a support measure. Engaging in other treatment options in conjunction with MAT is the best option for a successful recovery journey.

Often, many MAT providers also provide or at least recommend participation in a Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Program (SAIOP), which is a type of group therapy run by a licensed clinician.

Costly

MAT can be costly and isn’t always covered by health insurance. As people facing addiction typically struggle with finances as a result, this form of treatment can be inaccessible. While the government has taken more steps toward creating access for people with opioid addictions in recent years, there are still many health inequities to overcome. 

Harmful Myths About Medication-Assisted Treatment

Despite information about the roots of the opioid crisis being widely available, there is still a lot of stigma around addiction and treatment. Here are some harmful myths about MAT to dispel going forward.

Forms a New Addiction

One of the biggest myths about MAT is that it’s trading one addiction for another. After learning the cause of the opioid crisis, this concern and distrust for pharmaceuticals is valid. However, FDA-approved MAT options are closely monitored and shown to be non-addictive. 

It’s important to understand the difference between addiction and dependent as well. Someone may be required to take blood pressure medication for the foreseeable future. They are dependent on this drug for their health, not addicted. 

The Goal Should Be Abstinence

Another common myth about using MAT is that it’s somehow cheating, as the goal for addiction recovery should be abstinence. As mentioned previously, the potential side-effects of withdrawal can be deadly, and the psychological impacts of opioids can limit someone from attaining abstinence through treatment. 

Again, consider someone on blood pressure medication. This person may someday be able to stop using their medication through lifestyle changes and other forms of treatment. However, those changes take time, and their blood pressure medication prevents a heart attack or stroke in the meantime. 

Final Thoughts

Medication-Assisted Treatment offers significant advantages for those undergoing addiction recovery. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more government-funded programs and access to MAT treatments for patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Substance abuse and addiction can have a devastating impact on the lives of those affected and their loved ones. Yet, seeking treatment and rehabilitation is a long and winding road with mixed results. Health inequities and socioeconomic factors influence whether someone can attain the prolonged treatment they need.

Medication-assisted treatment is becoming more accessible for those on a recovery journey. Here’s what you need to know about medication-assisted treatment and some harmful myths about this option.

The State of the Opioid Crisis

While many people are aware of the opioid crisis, there are plenty of misconceptions around how it started and how it connects with illegal substance use. 

Oxycontin was introduced in the 1990s as a powerful painkiller lasting 12 hours per dose, compared to alternatives that lasted 4-6 hours. This was a result of the slow-release coating on the pills. This drug was released and approved with bold marketing claims stating that Oxycontin was significantly less addictive than other painkillers— a statement we now know to be false and has since led to $8.3 billion in fines to Purdue Pharma. 

As Oxycontin is a brand-name prescription drug, many of those impacted by addiction found themselves unable to access or afford their desired substance. This inaccessibility led to a paradigm shift in heroin use in the early 2000s and, more recently, fentanyl in the last decade. 

While prescription opioid-related and heroin-related deaths have decreased over the past decade, synthetic opioid-related overdoses continue to skyrocket.  

Why does this information matter?

It’s integral for family members, community members, and friends to understand that while feelings of anger, grief, and resentment are natural, the system was stacked against these individuals. A shift in focus from criminalization to creating compassionate resources and dedicating research to medical interventions is a must.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medication to combat cravings and assist with the recovery process. There are a few government-approved forms of MAT that play different roles in the recovery process. 

Before searching for a “MAT doctor near me” it’s important to know that MAT isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It works in partnership with other forms of treatment to promote safe, sustainable recovery. Furthermore, some forms of MAT won’t be conducive for everyone struggling with addiction.

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

The benefits of MAT outweigh the disadvantages. Here are the three primary benefits of using this recovery tool.

Safer Withdrawal

Withdrawing from a substance can be incredibly dangerous, especially opioids. Heart and blood pressure irregularities can lead to a heart attack during cold-turkey detox. At the same time, excessive sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea can cause extensive dehydration could cause shock leading to death.

Medication-Assisted Treatment helps people manage withdrawal symptoms while sustainably detoxing under medical supervision, creating both a safer and more humane way to start recovering.

Reduction in Overdose Risk

Using MAT significantly decreases the risk of relapse and overdose in those facing addiction. One study of 17,568 opioid users showed a decrease in opioid overdose deaths ranging from 38-59%, depending on the MAT intervention used. 

In layman’s terms, MAT can help keep those with addiction alive to progress through their recovery without their lives being cut tragically short.

Assists with Overall Treatment

Opioid addiction is incredibly powerful, forcing intrusive and obsessive thoughts for those trying to focus on recovery. Beyond the physical cravings, the neurological need for the substance can be overwhelming, especially when faced with triggers. It can be difficult to truly benefit from the other aspects of treatment, like cognitive behavioral therapy.

MAT can help minimize some of those overwhelming feelings so those affected can focus on the deep work ahead. As such, MAT can improve retention and the effectiveness of treatment programs.

Downsides of Medication-Assisted Treatment

As with any type of medical intervention, there are downsides to consider with MAT. Here are a few issues with MAT.

Requires Close Monitoring

MAT requires close supervision from a qualified medical professional, which can be a significant time commitment for those facing addiction. Depending on the course of treatment, the patient may require multiple visits per day to start— though this typically lessens over time. Finding a qualified MAT doctor can also be challenging in some areas. 

Not a Standalone Treatment

MAT isn’t a standalone treatment or solution; it’s a stepping stone and a support measure. Engaging in other treatment options in conjunction with MAT is the best option for a successful recovery journey.

Costly

MAT can be costly and isn’t always covered by health insurance. As people facing addiction typically struggle with finances as a result, this form of treatment can be inaccessible. While the government has taken more steps toward creating access for people with opioid addictions in recent years, there are still many health inequities to overcome. 

Harmful Myths About Medication-Assisted Treatment

Despite information about the roots of the opioid crisis being widely available, there is still a lot of stigma around addiction and treatment. Here are some harmful myths about MAT to dispel going forward.

Forms a New Addiction

One of the biggest myths about MAT is that it’s trading one addiction for another. After learning the cause of the opioid crisis, this concern and distrust for pharmaceuticals is valid. However, FDA-approved MAT options are closely monitored and shown to be non-addictive. 

It’s important to understand the difference between addiction and dependent as well. Someone may be required to take blood pressure medication for the foreseeable future. They are dependent on this drug for their health, not addicted. 

The Goal Should Be Abstinence

Another common myth about using MAT is that it’s somehow cheating, as the goal for addiction recovery should be abstinence. As mentioned previously, the potential side-effects of withdrawal can be deadly, and the psychological impacts of opioids can limit someone from attaining abstinence through treatment. 

Again, consider someone on blood pressure medication. This person may someday be able to stop using their medication through lifestyle changes and other forms of treatment. However, those changes take time, and their blood pressure medication prevents a heart attack or stroke in the meantime. 

Final Thoughts

Medication-Assisted Treatment offers significant advantages for those undergoing addiction recovery. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more government-funded programs and access to MAT treatments for patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

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