Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT has been a part of drug and alcohol treatment for decades. In simple terms, it consists of the use of medications in concert with counseling and behavioral therapy to treat addiction. One of the first medications used in MAT beginning in the 1960s was methadone for heroin addiction. While methadone continues to be used in certain circumstances, pharmacological research over the past 30 years or so has made new, more targeted medicines available, including buprenorphine and naltrexone, that have far fewer compromises.
The goal with MAT is not to simply treat symptoms. A common misunderstanding about MAT is that it is simply some sort of long-term detox process. The reality is that modern MAT is an evidence-based treatment methodology with proven results. Medication is used in parallel with therapy to establish new behaviors. The outcome targeted by MAT is lifetime abstinence. Numerous studies have shown that MAT:
• Increases the likelihood of patients remaining in treatment.
• Decreases opiate abuse and criminal activity in patients prone to those behaviors.
• Decreased alcohol abuse and criminal activity, e.g. DUI arrests among treated alcoholics.
• Improves the ability of the patient to attain and retain gainful employment
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are engaged a long-term study of over 1,188 patients at 65 sites across the U.S. to research outcomes for patients receiving MAT for opioid use disorders.(1) This historic study is scheduled to conclude in Summer 2021 with final analysis. It is widely anticipated to answer lingering questions about this form of treatment and to fuel the growing acceptance of MAT in the treatment and recovery communities.
The Evolution In Addiction Treatment
The field of addiction medicine is continuously evolving and innovation in recent years has largely been driven by America’s exploding opioid crisis. The demand for lasting solutions has grown geometrically over the past decade. It is become more evident than ever that to simply triage addicts with week-long detox stays is woefully insufficient. Major cities and small towns across the country are being impacted in a very real way. Emergency services stretched to the breaking point managing overdose calls, increases in property crime, and overdose fatalities. All of this has driven the federal government to bring unprecedented resources to bear on the problem. The previously mentioned CDC study is just one example of the work being done.
The efficacy of MAT is easier to understand than most might imagine. Simply put, medications can mitigate withdrawal symptoms and cravings and even block the effects of illicit opiates. By removing much of the physical cravings and treating residual effects like depression, anxiety, and lethargy, patients are empowered. There is a synergistic effect in action. The patient is at less of a disadvantage. This makes them better able to participate in therapy and to benefit from it. The more time patients can remain abstinent, while simultaneously practicing positive new behaviors, the better their odds of success at long-term recovery.
Medication-Assisted Treatment is a tool that when used appropriately, improves the chances for successful recovery over the years and lifetimes.