Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT is a blend of counseling and medication designed to improve outcomes. MAT has been used for opioid addiction since the 1960s and 70s, beginning first with methadone programs focused primarily on heroin addicts. However, the MAT method has evolved far beyond its humble roots. Today, MAT has gained newfound acceptance in a broader portion of the treatment spectrum than ever before. The main reasons for this are simple. MAT has grown more effective with time as new medications have become available and there have been more results to study and learn from.
The biggest reason for the growth in the popularity of MAT though is that it delivers results. As the U.S. has undergone an explosive opioid abuse epidemic over the past 20 years, the demand for effective treatment has grown alongside it. The potential lethality of opioid addiction makes getting it right all that more important. Many may only get one shot at recovery, so they need absolutely every advantage available. When lives are at stake, there is no time for pious condescension or judgment. The fact is that MAT works and it saves lives.
Efficacy of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioids
Research shows MAT is effective. It substantially improves a patients’ chances of staying in treatment and continuing recovery. (1). MAT programs help in early recovery. They can subdue cravings and lower the chance of relapse, especially when opioid blockers are included. Perhaps most importantly, they buy the patient time and breathing room to grow in their recovery.
The most common medications used in MAT for opioid addiction today are buprenorphine and naloxone, usually in combination, sometimes known by the brand name, Suboxone. Buprenorphine is a long-acting synthetic opioid that lacks the powerful euphoric effect of opioids which are often abused. It is this component that helps abate withdrawal symptoms in detox and control cravings when used in an MAT setting. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that helps prevent buprenorphine from being used in ways other than prescribed. Naloxone is also the active agent in the lifesaving medication Narcan, which is used to arrest opioid overdose.
Is MAT Enough?
MAT for opioid addiction does not begin and end with buprenorphine though. Promising results for lasting recovery have been seen with patients who are also prescribed antidepressants and/or non-narcotic medications for anxiety. The combination of medications, if any, which is used will depend on each patient’s profile. Opioid addicted people who have a co-occurring mood disorder like depression are more likely to be prescribed a psychiatric medication as well. However, benefits have been seen with psychiatric medications prescribed for a limited period in early recovery with other patients.
Opioid addicted people tend to have more successful early recovery with MAT programs than without. This does not mean recovery without MAT isn’t possible. But there is research supporting the use of MAT. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are currently conducting a study of over 1,000 patients at more than 60 sites across the U.S. to research MAT outcomes for opioid addiction. (1) This will be the largest study of its’ kind. Final results will be published in Summer 2021. Whether or not MAT is right for you or your loved one is a decision that should be made with medical and professional advice.
If you have more questions about Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioid addiction, please contact us.