Josh Chandler | October 5, 2017

3 Facts About Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioids

Medication assisted treatment for opioids provides a variety of benefits for individuals recovering from opiate addiction. Learn the most important facts about this breakthrough drug treatment here.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 78 people die each day from opioid overdose. An effective treatment option could drop this number drastically. Medication assisted treatment for opioids has been proven to be the most effective treatment option available.

In the first long-term follow-up of patients treated with medication in the Prescription Opioid Addiction Treatment Study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, after 3.5 years 61% of individuals still abstained from drugs. This increased success and decreased relapse rate has been consistent for MAT, or Medication Assisted Treatment, which combines drugs and behavioral therapy for maximum effectiveness.

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, this is a promising intervention.

Read on to learn three important facts about medication assisted treatments for opioids.

1. Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioids: Treatment Drugs

Medication assisted treatment uses FDA-approved medication combined with behavioral therapy to treat opioid dependency.

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a chronic disease of the brain caused by repeated opioid use that manifests in a dysfunctional brain reward system. This dysfunction affects behavior in detrimental ways. These patients are highly susceptible to relapse because of brain abnormalities caused by opioid drugs.

Patients with opioid dependencies require the drug for normal brain function and experience severe withdrawal symptoms without it. This is due to the cascade of chemical processes and overstimulation that result from opioid receptors that have become tolerant to large amounts of the drugs.

Medications used to treat OUD serve two functions. One is to reduce or eliminate the euphoric effect of opioid drugs, even if the dose is repeated. The other prevents opioid overdose if the problem drug is used.

Buprenorphine and Naloxone

Buprenorphine, a treatment drug, is known as a partial agonist that partially binds to opioid receptors. Its effects plateau and do not increase despite repeat doses. It does not produce a feeling of euphoria, nor does it present the same side effects as other opioid drugs.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that strips opioids from opioid receptors, preventing overdose should drugs be used.

These two drugs may be used individually or in conjunction with one another. Buprenorphine can be used alone to prevent painful withdrawal symptoms, or in conjunction with naloxone to prevent opioid drug effects and possible overdose. Naloxone is used alone for emergency overdose situations.

2. A Multi-Faceted Approach to Recovery

Patients receiving medication assisted therapy for opioids usually receive psychosocial treatment as well. This is also known as behavioral therapy, as it addresses behaviors and conditions that may lead to opioid abuse.

Those who receive this behavioral treatment in conjunction with therapeutic drugs have overall better outcomes than those that receive medication only. Support, education, and psychosocial evaluation and treatment help with any behaviors and disorders that may have initially led to drug abuse.

Counseling and Reward Programs

Individual, group, and therapy counseling are all part of effective behavioral treatment programs. Additionally, patients may have access to community-based services, mutual help and accountability programs, and rewards programs. These rewards may include services and goods in exchange for abstinence and positive behaviors.

Underlying conditions, such as mental illness, are also assessed and addressed during behavioral treatment.

Behavioral treatment is essential to helping patients make and maintain significant lifestyle changes. Therapy helps patients develop better coping and stress management skills. Patients also learn how to avoid problematic situations that could compromise their treatment progress. Relapse is less common with this kind of support.

3. Effectiveness of Medication Assisted Treatment

Medication assisted treatment combining medication and behavioral therapy is the most effective treatment for long-term opioid recovery. The effectiveness of this combination surpasses the effectiveness of medication or behavioral treatment alone.

Alleviates Withdrawal Symptoms

The medications used in treatment programs lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms, prevent drug cravings and block effects of opioid drugs.

Patients who receive opioid treatment medication can expect less severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are generally extremely unpleasant and often contribute to relapse as the patient seeks relief. Opiate withdrawal symptoms mitigated by Buprenorphine based medications include:

  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • low energy
  • chills
  • cold and hot sweats
  • nausea
  • cramping
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • muscle aches, pains, and spasms
  • runny nose
  • rapid heartbeat
  • high blood pressure

The Role of Medication

The opioid partial agonist-antagonist drugs in treatment medication counteract these symptoms and can potentially eliminate or significantly lessen the urge to seek relief through opioid drug abuse. This makes medication assisted treatment for opioids extremely effective because it eliminates unpleasant and painful physical symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal.

In addition to withdrawal relief, it also eliminates results users seek from opioids. It blocks euphoric or pain-relieving effects of any opioids that may be used, preventing any reward from opioid drug use and also preventing possible overdose.

The Role of Behavior Treatment

Behavioral treatment helps the patient understand the nature of their disease. In this safe setting, they will learn what caused their addiction. They will also learn what effect their addiction has had on their lives and what changes they can make to overcome problems stemming from that addiction.

Counseling also offers encouragement, support, and motivation for patients. Patients will learn how to handle stress and treatment setbacks and how to make healthier decisions for their future.

An Effective Combination

The integration of medication and behavioral treatment makes for a powerful program that prevents

  • Illicit drug use
  • Relapse
  • Fatal overdose

These three possibilities are much more likely to occur without medication assisted treatment for opioids, as patients are left to deal with many disease factors on their own.

A Solution for a Growing Epidemic

Medication assisted treatment for opioids treats the disease of addiction. It is not a “replacement drug” for the opioids. Medications are delivered in a controlled manner so that patients have a better chance of overcoming their opioid addiction.

Addiction, including opioid use disorder, requires a lengthy recovery and a lifelong commitment. Medication assisted treatment is invaluable to those who struggle to become healthy and drug-free because it treats the biological and psychological aspects of the addiction disease.

Because opioids change the chemistry and function of brain structures, addiction is not just a psychological or social affliction. It requires medical intervention just like any other physical disease.

This is why medication assisted treatment works better than other treatments. It addresses the disease from every side, providing a better foundation for patients seeking to reclaim their lives.

Visit our website to learn more about our treatment programs or give us a call at 800-426-1818 for more information or assistance. Let us help you through all phases of your addiction recovery.

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Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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