What is MAT and How Does it Work?
Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT in simple terms consists of a combination of counseling and medication in a structured environment. MAT has been around in some form since the 1960s, beginning with methadone programs, but it has evolved a great deal since then. The recent explosive opioid addiction epidemic has seen a rise in the popularity of MAT programs. The reasons for this are simple. MAT is proven to be effective at helping addicts break free of their dependence and put together more sober time. (1)
MAT is proven to help patients stay in treatment longer and complete their care. It has been shown to reduce the chances of arrest and incarceration. It greatly reduces the risk of relapse, which can lead to negative consequences. Considering the danger of opioid addiction, in particular, harm reduction strategies which include MAT are warranted. With the uncertainty of potency in street heroin or the presence of adulterants like fentanyl, the risk of fatal overdose is higher than ever before. We simply do not know how many chances an opioid addict will get at treatment and recovery. It is absolutely crucial that they have every advantage possible in their corner. For many, especially chronic relapsers, this will include some form of MAT.
While MAT is most often associated with addiction treatment for opioid dependence, it is useful for alcohol use disorders and other drugs as well. The primary concept behind MAT is to mitigate cravings and discomfort that might otherwise cause a person to use. MAT usually includes deterrents to abuse as well. In the case of opioid addiction treatment, naloxone, an opioid antagonist, is one example. The presence of naloxone in Suboxone helps to prevent abuse. It helps some to think of MAT as protection in early recovery. It improves the odds of a patient staying on track so they can complete treatment. It improves their chances of remaining gainfully employed or staying in school after treatment.
Medications Used With MAT
For opioid use disorder patients, the most common MAT medication is buprenorphine (usually combined with naloxone). Buprenorphine is a long-acting synthetic opioid with a very long half-life. It lacks the euphoric effects that traditional opioids have and has a high affinity for the brain’s opioid receptors. This means it tends to not only stick and stay in these receptors, but it will even displace other opioids from those receptors. These qualities make it particularly well-suited as a therapeutic MAT agent for opioid addicts.
Patients with alcohol use disorders often receive medications such as Disulfiram or Acamprosate in an MAT setting. Like buprenorphine for opioid addicts, these medications are effective at reducing or eliminating cravings. Other tertiary medications are often used for MAT patients. These may include antidepressants and non-narcotic anti-anxiety medications. The goal of MAT medications such as these, regardless of the patient’s drug of choice, is to reduce cravings and other side-effects that may linger after cessation of substance abuse.
If you have more questions about Medication Assisted Treatment or anything concerning addiction and treatment, please contact us.