Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is one of the most effective and safest options available for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).
MAT is the use of FDA-approved medications used in combination with counseling and behavioral health therapies that provide a whole-patient approach to treatment. It is tailored specifically to each individual. Patients and providers determine whether MAT best fits your needs.
An OUD medication alleviates the physical and mental symptoms of opioid withdrawal, while counseling promotes positive behavior and lifestyle change. This allows patients to work toward recovery goals and build the skills and support system needed for recovery.
How Medication Helps Opioid Addiction
There are three FDA-approved medications that can be used to treat Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).
Each medication differs in the way it works to relieve symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Overall, they work to:
Normalize brain chemistry
Block the euphoric effects of opioids
Normalize physical functions without withdrawal effects
When provided at the proper dose, OUD medications have no adverse effects on a person’s intelligence, mental capability, physical functioning, or employability. They can be taken on a short or long-term basis.
Evidence has shown medically-supervised withdrawal is safer than an abstinence-only approach. OUD medications reduce illicit opioid use and risk of overdose death, and people are more likely to continue with treatment which gives them a better chance of recovering.
Using OUD medication gives people the time and ability to make life changes that are often necessary in order to get to long-term remission and recovery. People may need to change their environment completely—avoiding or cutting ties with people, places, and things connected with their drug use. OUD medications relieve the symptoms of opioid withdrawal allowing them to better manage other important parts of their lives such as parenting, school, or work.
Sources: TIPS, pewtrusts.org, samhsa.gov
Benefits of Counseling in MAT Programs
There are many factors that contribute to the development of an addiction. As you go through recovery, counselors will share strategies for addressing these factors.
Counseling helps you:
- Understand addiction as a disease
- Recognize what may have led to addiction and the problems it has caused
- Practice safe coping skills for stress and healthy decision making
- Stay motivated to stick with treatment
These skills will allow you to make better treatment decisions and continue recovery.
Questions About Medication-Assisted Treatment
Despite growing evidence of its effectiveness, medication-assisted treatment often has stigmas and myths surrounding it. This misinformation prevents people from receiving vital treatment for their addiction.
“Isn’t MAT just trading one addiction for another?”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) emphasizes these medications do not substitute one addiction for another. The dosage of medication used in treatment does not get a person high—it helps reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal. It helps restore balance to the brain circuits affected by addiction.
Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication for any other chronic disease such as diabetes or asthma. When it is used according to the provider’s instructions, the medication will not create a new addiction.
Sources: drugabuse.gov, psychiatry.org
“How are you in recovery if you’re still using?”
Some believe if medication is used to achieve sobriety (rather than abstinence), it isn’t truly recovery. Medication allows a patient to fully focus on building healthy behaviors and a support system that is sustainable following treatment—an important step during recovery.
“What is the proof MAT is more effective than abstinence?”
These agencies emphasize MAT as an evidence based, first line treatment for Opioid Use Disorder:
- American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
- American Medical Association
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“What are the side effects?”
As with any prescription medication, there is a potential risk for side effects. Use of other medications, alcohol, or illegal drugs can increase those risks. MAT providers will discuss medical conditions, potential side effects, and risks before treatment begins.
“Why should I trust a physician to prescribe more opioids?”
In South Dakota, providers undergo an intensive process to prescribe medication-assisted treatment. Once receiving approval, treatment programs must follow strict federal regulations to maintain their license.
“What if I can’t afford treatment?”
The Indigent Medication Program through the SD Department of Social Services provides temporary financial support for those seeking MAT. Call the Opioid Resource Hotline at 1-800-920-4343 and learn what options best fit your needs.
“Aren’t MAT medications like liquid handcuffs?”
Two of the drugs used to treat OUD—Buprenorphine and Naltrexone—can be taken orally in pill form or monthly by sustained-release injection. Taking these medications does not require a daily visit to an authorized clinic. And, tele-medicine appointments are available at some facilities making it possible for the doctor to come to you.
While Methadone does require a daily visit to a licensed facility, it is known to reduce fatal overdoses by more than half and is often prescribed to those who have a severe dependence on opioids.
Where to Find MAT Treatment in South Dakota
Two agencies in South Dakota have partnered with the Department of Social Services to expand MAT services.
To learn more about MAT and other treatment options for Opioid Use Disorder, call the Opioid Resource Hotline at 1-800-920-4343 or Department of Social Services, Division of Behavioral Health at 605-367-5236.