Research has shown the combination of medication along with psycho-social therapy is the best form of opioid addiction treatment for most people. Unfortunately, many people do not receive the treatment they need, either due to lack of access to providers, or due to misunderstandings and stigmas related to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).
A common misconception is that MAT simply replaces one drug for another. However, this view does not reflect the reality of what MAT actually does and how the medications work. When a patient receives MAT, they are moving from using opioids in an unsafe, destructive and often illicit manner, to a highly regulated medication that has been FDA approved for the specific purpose of treating addiction. Medication is administered under the care of trained physicians and medical professionals. Additionally, the medications used in our Medication-Assisted Treatment programs differ in important ways compared to commonly abused pain pills or heroin. These medications provide relief for the physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with opioid dependence while preventing the euphoric effects of other opioids.
The three most commonly used medications to treat opioid use disorder are methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Methadone and buprenorphine are both opioid agonist, meaning they activate mu-opioid receptors in the brain. However, unlike other opioids, they do so in a way that provides withdrawal symptom relief and curbs cravings while blocking the high of other opioids. Methadone is a “full agonist” that fully binds to opioid receptors. Buprenorphine, a “partial agonist”, only partially binds to opioid receptors creating a ceiling on the medication’s effect. In contrast to these opioid agonist, naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that simply blocks opioid receptors rather than activating them. Since opioid antagonist do not activate opioid receptors, they do not provide relief for physical withdrawal symptoms or cravings and require full detoxification before starting treatment. Along with methadone, BHG also offers Suboxone at many of our treatment centers. Suboxone is a medication that combines the partial agonist buprenorphine with the opioid antagonist naloxone for an effective medication commonly used in MAT.
Each of these medications have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of opioid use disorder. The most appropriate medication and dosage will be determined by the needs of the patient in consultation with one of our physicians.
Part of a Comprehensive Approach
Although medication plays an important part in the treatment of opioid addiction, support services such as counseling and behavioral interventions are fundamental components to all BHG programs. With the support provided by our counseling team and clinicians, patients learn new coping skills and strategies to deal with triggers and environmental stressors associated with their addiction. When the needs of the patients go beyond what we are able to address directly, we work to connect patients to appropriate supportive services within the community.
The combination of therapeutic medications with counseling has been shown to be the most effective form of treatment in producing positive patient outcomes. But don’t just take our word for it…
“This treatment approach has been shown to: improve patient survival, increase retention in treatment, decrease illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders, increase patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment, [and] improve birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant.”- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
“Relative to outpatient, abstinence-oriented drug addiction treatment, office-based outpatient treatment (OBOT) with buprenorphine improves six-month treatment engagement, significantly reduces cravings, illicit opioid use and mortality and improves psychosocial outcomes.”- American Society of Addiction Medicine
“Results of randomized, controlled studies revealed that MAT combined with counseling reduced unauthorized opioid use significantly better than counseling alone.”- National Drug Court Institute