Over the centuries that humans have been using opioids, there have been many different ways developed to help treat this addiction. One way that has been successful and has helped people sustain their recovery has been medication assisted treatment.
Medication-assisted treatment means that doctors combine various medicines with counseling and behavioral therapy. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly obvious that opioid addiction is a chronic disease. Many of these medication-assisted treatments will need to be ongoing for the patient. Also, unfortunately, not only is opioid addiction chronic, but it has also become a stigma for people who are taking a maintenance drug such as methadone.
Hopefully, as public understanding increases, this stigma will be less severe, and more people can be helped with medication-assisted treatments.
What medications are commonly used in medication assisted treatment?
- Methadone — Almost everyone has heard about methadone by now. There are often a lot of methadone clinics available in big cities which have made the drug more well-known and thankfully more accessible to those needing it. Methadone works because it is itself a narcotic, but it is safer than other narcotics. It changes the way the brain responds to pain. It also blocks the “high” that people get when they use codeine, or heroin, or morphine related drugs.
- Buprenorphine – This drug differs from methadone in one important way. Methadone requires close and daily supervision of the patient in a setting such as a methadone clinic or a hospital or rehab setting. Along with counseling and behavioral therapy, buprenorphine can be prescribed through a physician’s office. This drug helps diminish the physical effects of opioid addiction. These physical effects include the withdrawal systems and cravings that happen when people try to stop using opioids.
- Naltrexone – This drug differs from both methadone and buprenorphine. Naltrexone blocks both the “high” of using narcotics, and it blocks the pain relief of using narcotics. It also helps patients because it can reduce the cravings for narcotics. This is a drug that is often used after a patient has already gone through detoxification from narcotics. Once a patient is on a regular routine of naltrexone, the patient has a lower chance of overdosing on narcotics.
One reason that medication assisted treatment can help patients is that these medications help with withdrawal. Withdrawal is the feeling of sickness that comes over the body when there are too few or no opioids in the body. This feeling makes recovery from opioid use particularly difficult.
When a patient has counseling and behavioral therapy added to a medicine that helps them deal with withdrawal, many patients are able to start on the road to recovery. The combination of all this help can prevent relapse.
Sometimes people who have been through 12-step programs have misunderstandings about medication-assisted treatment. They might think that using medication along with therapy is just an excuse to replace one addiction with another addiction. But the data shows that this sort of treatment has the highest success rate for opioid addiction.