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The Benefits of Medication-Assisted Therapy for Opioid Addiction


By Grant Gegwich


Opioid drugs include both prescription pain killers and street drugs such as heroin.

Overcoming an addiction to opioid drugs – which includes prescription pain killers and street drugs such as heroin – frequently takes more than sheer willpower. Despite the addicted person’s motivation and desire to kick their habit, they face physical symptoms that are often too powerful to overcome. When they stop the drug abruptly, they’ll experience severe withdrawal symptoms that can last for days and cravings that dominate their every waking thought for weeks and sometimes longer. When the pain of withdrawal kicks in, it’s nearly impossible not to give in to the drug for relief.

Fortunately, there is a solution that can help. It’s called medication-assisted therapy (MAT). MAT is used to help people with opioid addiction and may help with addictions to alcohol and other drugs as well.

How Does MAT Work?

“Medication-assisted therapy is not designed to be a quick-fix for addiction,” said Stacie Nawn, a licensed professional counselor and Service Director of the Opioid Treatment Center of Excellence. “The patient doesn’t simply pop a pill to relieve their cravings and then move on to live a new life. On the contrary, MAT is a comprehensive therapeutic approach that requires a lot of hard work. ”

The medication is part of the equation and it does help to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It can give the addicted person some relief so they can focus better on the other challenging parts of recovery.

MAT also includes counseling and behavioral therapy that address the core issues behind the addiction. If MAT is part of an opioid treatment program, federal law requires that the recipient receives these additional services. These mandates are part of the MAT philosophy – treating the whole person with resources that support all aspects of life.

Commonly Used Medications for MAT

Different medications may be used during MAT depending on the severity of the addiction. Methadone is a long-acting opioid medication that blocks other opioid drugs of abuse from binding to the same receptors in the brain. This helps with cravings and withdrawal symptoms while lessening the risk of misuse.

Buprenorphine can be taken at home, eliminating the need for daily travel to a clinic. It’s frequently combined with naloxone, another drug that helps to block the effects of opioids.

Naltrexone is a medication available in pill form or by monthly injection; Naltrexone entirely blocks the opioid receptors. This prevents any consumed opioid from having an effect. Naltrexone is not effective for treating withdrawal symptoms.

Clonidine is a drug used during the detox period. It’s a blood pressure medication that can reduce some of the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal such as restlessness and anxiety.

Combinations of these drugs may be used over the long term to help prevent relapses. These medications are prescribed and closely monitored by a doctor taking into account the addicted person’s preferences and individual factors.

Research has shown that people who pursue medication-assisted therapy are more successful at beating their addiction than those who try to recover without it. “MAT gives people a better chance of staying in a rehabilitation program and avoiding relapse after their initial rehab is complete,” said Nawn.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to opioid drugs, talk to your doctor to see if medication-assisted therapy may be right for you.

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