Medication-assisted treatment is becoming a gold standard for treating opioid addiction, but unfortunately, it’s largely under-utilized in addiction treatment programs. Here’s what you need to know about access to medication-assisted treatment programs.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment is the use of medications in combination with behavioral therapy to help individuals overcome an addiction for the long-term. Medication-assisted treatment is available for both alcohol and opioid addictions.

Treating an opioid addiction in particular is very challenging for a variety of reasons:

  • Opioid addiction produces profound changes in brain function and structures.
  • Cravings can be intense for months after detox.
  • Detox is often unpleasant, making it difficult to stay away from heroin or prescription painkillers.

The medications available for MAT can significantly reduce typical detox symptoms and make the experience of coming off the abused opioids less of a hardship. The three medications used to treat opioid addiction help to normalize brain function and prevent cravings that can quickly lead to relapse. This makes it easier for those in recovery to focus on developing the essential skills they need to maintain recovery for the long-term.

Why MAT Isn’t More Common

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, only 23 percent of public treatment programs and fewer than half of private programs offer MAT. This is despite the fact that it’s been shown to:1

  • Increase retention in treatment
  • Reduce opioid overdose deaths
  • Reduce opioid use and the criminal activities that often accompany it
  • Improve other health outcomes, including decreasing the odds of contracting HIV or hepatitis C
  • Increase the ability to find and maintain employment
  • Improve birth outcomes among addicted pregnant women

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cites several reasons for the low utilization of MAT, despite its effectiveness for treating opioid addiction.2

Topping the list is the common misconception that MAT simply replaces one addiction for another—but nothing could be farther from the truth. First of all, the medications used to treat MAT are safe and effective when used as directed, and if these medications produce any euphoric effects, they’re far less pronounced than the effects of heroin or prescription painkillers.

Secondly, the medications used in MAT correct chemical imbalances in the brain that produce withdrawal symptoms and contribute to intense cravings. Taking medications to reduce these symptoms and other effects of opioid addiction enables individuals to focus their attention on recovery and work to restore the various areas of their lives affected by the addiction. Once an individual has addressed the issues underlying the addiction and developed the skills needed to stay in long-term recovery, they can choose to discontinue or taper off their medications without negative effects.

According to a study published in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning, administrators of programs that haven’t adopted MAT cite a number of barriers:3

  • A lack of access to medical personnel who are trained in delivering MAT
  • Regulatory prohibitions due to the program’s lack of medical staff
  • Funding barriers
  • Cultural barriers, such as staff or patient opposition to MAT

These barriers, according to researchers, suggest that efforts to implement MAT should be focused on addressing funding and weaknesses in a facility’s medical infrastructure. Additionally, educating everyone involved about the therapeutic uses of these medications and what the research says about MAT is essential for breaking down cultural barriers to medication-assisted treatment.

Real Recovery: A Leader in Medication-Assisted Treatment

Real Recovery understands that, due to the high risk of relapse for opioid addiction, it is necessary to use research-based treatments and best-practices protocols that have proven success.

Our unique MAT program takes place through our sober living facility, with medications dispensed and administered daily in our state-licensed facility with an on-site pharmacy partner. All medications are prescribed by a physician with board certification in addiction, and random weekly drug screens are used to ensure all medications are at the correct therapeutic levels.

Choosing MAT can help individuals fully recover from an opioid addiction. Medication-assisted treatment works, and it can mean the difference between successful long-term recovery and early-recovery relapse.