By Alanna Hilbink
Access to the right treatment at the right time makes a difference in a person’s addiction recovery. What the “right” treatment entails changes from person to person. It even changes for a single person depending on where he or she is on the path to sobriety.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be one of those right choices for some people, and recent funding changes make this treatment option more widely available to Tennessee residents.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
Medication-assisted treatment uses buprenorphine, methadone, naltrexone and other specific, carefully prescribed drugs to treat some of the physical aspects of addiction. Each of these drugs works differently and has a different role in recovery.
But MAT isn’t limited to the use of medication. Addiction is as much a mental health issue as it is a physical one, and recovering individuals need care for all co-occurring disorders. The US Food and Drug Administration defines MAT as “the use of medication combined with counseling and behavioral therapies.”1 Medication should be used in conjunction with options such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, family therapy and Motivational Enhancement Therapy as part of an integrated treatment program.
During MAT, patients and their treatment team will work together to determine if medications are a good supplement to other types of care and which medications might help. Patients may respond well to one drug but not another. They may benefit most from a drug-free recovery or from a combination of medications that help balance mental and physical health.
Pros and Cons of Medications for Addiction Treatment
Methadone is an opiate analgesic that “works to treat people who were addicted to opiate drugs by producing similar effects and preventing withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using these drugs,” according to MedlinePlus.2 Methadone controls withdrawal symptoms and biologically blocks the high opiates otherwise produce. It can be a useful tool in early recovery by preventing withdrawal from being a serious stumbling block to starting treatment. Later in recovery, it reduces cravings and temptations to relapse. Because methadone is also an opioid and can be abused, patients typically take it under medical supervision during the early stages of recovery. They may receive take-home prescriptions after a period of sobriety and regular participation in other forms of treatment.
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It prevents withdrawal symptoms by acting like an opioid without producing a high. As with methadone, patients typically begin treatment by getting each dose at a doctor’s office. Taking a buprenorphine or methadone prescription is safest and simplest when MAT is part of an inpatient or outpatient treatment plan. Patients will not have to make appointments or travel just to get their medication. Medication will be part of the overall treatment schedule rather than a stand-alone service.
Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. It reduces cravings and blocks the effects of certain drugs. It does not address withdrawal symptoms but may be used with other medications that do. Like methadone and buprenorphine, it can be a useful tool but is not a solution to addiction on its own. MedlinePlus explains, “Naltrexone is used along with counseling and social support to help people who have stopped drinking alcohol and using street drugs continue to avoid drinking or using drugs. … Naltrexone is only helpful when it is used as part of an addiction treatment program.”3
No medication is stand-alone treatment for addiction. Addiction can be treated, and individuals can find recovery success. This success does not come from a single pill. Recovery success comes through multidimensional, in-depth care.
What Does Tennessee’s New Funding for MAT Mean?
Medication-assisted treatment is not right for everyone, but it can be helpful for many. NPR explains, “Only a fraction of the more than 4 million people believed to abuse prescription painkillers or heroin in the U.S. are being given what’s called medication-assisted treatment. One reason is the limited availability of the treatment.”4 Because everyone deserves a chance to explore all their recovery options, MAT should be available to those who will benefit from it.
Tennessee is working to change treatment availability, and this $6-million grant will help the state do just that. Nashville Public Radio shares, “The money will be used to pay the bills of patients who don’t have coverage and see a participating doctor with experience prescribing for opioid treatment. The federal money should cover more than 600 people in six counties.”5 The funding is spread out over four years and has the potential to touch many lives. It ensures that many people who need access to care will have it.
Every recovery journey is unique, so every recovering individual should have access to a variety of treatment options. Patients can work with professional treatment providers such as The Oaks at La Paloma to learn more about the pros and cons of MAT. They can learn how to take advantage of funding and insurance coverage for recovery. Patients should work with a treatment team to create a personalized treatment plan, to choose the most appropriate treatment methods and to adjust care as recovery progresses.
1 “Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on the agency’s continued efforts to promote the safe adoption of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.” US Food and Drug Administration, September 20, 2017.
2 “Methadone.” MedlinePlus, January 15, 2017.
3 “Naltrexone.” MedlinePlus, February 1, 2009.
4 Hsu, Andrea. “Treating Opioid Addiction With a Drug Raises Hope and Controversy.” NPR, May 17, 2016.
5 Farmer, Blake. “Tennessee Funnels Federal Money to Opioid Addiction Treatment for Patients Who Can’t Pay.” Nashville Public Radio, September 27, 2017.
Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.