Over the past few decades, numerous medications have been introduced in the addiction and chemical dependency treatment landscapes. These powerful, and sometimes controversial drugs have been enormously effective in the care of various substance use disorders like opioid and alcohol addiction, and it’s natural for them to draw widespread interest among those in need of help, as well as their families. It’s important though to understand the risks, benefits, fundamentals, and parameters of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to determine if it’s the right course of action. There are a great many variables that accompany this type of treatment, and prospective participants should have thorough understanding of the process.
Common Types of MAT Drugs
The evolution of medication-assisted treatment has seen the advent of many different types of drugs. Some of these have endured as viable treatment options, some produced limited results and some have proven to be incredibly addictive in their own right. Today two of the more common MAT drugs include:
Vivitrol® – Vivitrol is the brand-name form of a drug called naltrexone which is used in the treatment of opioid and alcohol addiction. The drug has been enormously effective in reducing alcohol cravings and helping opioid patients avoid relapse. It works by blocking the effects of heroin and prescription opioids to the brain. Treatment consists of a monthly injection into the muscle using a special needle. Effects last for 30 days and cannot be removed from the system. The internal dosage method significantly mitigates the opportunity for theft or diversion that is common in other opioid pain medications like methadone. While Vivitrol injections can yield a variety of minor side effects, including nausea, headache, decreased appetite and redness at the injection site, it is largely considered to be one of safest MAT drugs available.
Buprenorphine® – Available in the brand-name drugs Suboxone® and Subutex®, buprenorphine is also used to treat heroin and opioid dependency. It was the first opioid treatment medication that was allowed to be prescribed in a physician’s office, unlike its predecessor methadone, which required patients go to a clinic, drastically inhibiting access to the drug. Subutex is the tablet form of pure buprenorphine whereas Suboxone is a dissolvable, sublingual film combining buprenorphine and the drug naloxone.
It’s imperative that each patient consult with their physician or treatment professional to determine their eligibility for MAT.
Risks of Misuse
Perhaps just as important as assessing the efficacy of an MAT is assessing its safety and potential for misuse. Given the history of addiction potential with maintenance drugs like methadone and others, one of the main criteria for determining the viability of a MAT drug is now its potential for abuse. While MAT drugs are becoming increasingly resistant to diversion and misuse, there are still always risks. Each course of medication-assisted treatment should be supervised and administered by an addiction-trained physician who can assess the process and adjust treatment accordingly. Duration of treatment is contingent upon patients’ progress and cravings.
A Supplement, Not A Substitute
Medication-assisted treatment is meant to be deployed as part of a larger overall care plan. It is not meant to replace fundamental elements of treatment such as group therapy, individual counseling and other tenets of rehabilitation. Successful recovery from drug and alcohol addition requires a bilateral approach that addresses both the physical and behavioral aspects of the problem. Even those who are eligible for MAT must undergo comprehensive rehab and behavior modification so they can develop long-term relapse-prevention strategies. Although MAT can be effective, there is no one single resource for overcoming addiction. It takes a composite of proven practices and personalized therapies to help patients heal as individuals, not simply a collection of their symptoms.