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Opioid addiction treatment brings crucial help, not addiction by another name.

In 2017, former American HHS Secretary Tom Price called receiving medically-assisted treatment “substituting one opioid for another.” Addiction experts criticized his comment as evidence-free stigma. But he voiced a common idea about opioid treatments: that just doctors give another drug for another addiction, not recovery.

Is this idea about medically-assisted treatment (MAT) true? Not quite. We’ll reexamine this addiction treatment, to better understand how it can support recovery for some people suffering from substance use disorder.

How Does MAT Support Recovery?

MAT is a treatment program meant to help you recover from opioid dependence. Its strategy comes in two parts: medicine and therapy. The medicines work on your body. The therapies work on your mind.

Opioid Addiction Medication

To begin: technically, MAT medicines count as opioids. But we can’t simply equate MAT opioids (like buprenorphine and methadone) with other opioids (like heroin, Oxycontin or fentanyl). They all carry the risk of addiction. But MAT opioids have both chemical and medical safeguards against that risk.

Let’s look at buprenorphine, for instance: it’s both an opioid agonist and an opioid antagonist  it gives pain relief, but also keeps you from getting hooked on it. That pain relief helps you through painful withdrawal and can lessen your cravings to use. But buprenorphine only gives you moderate physical pleasure, and you can’t build a tolerance for it. It purposely counteracts your likelihood of addiction. Doctors who prescribe buprenorphine (often as Suboxone) also pair it with another opioid antagonist, like naltrexone. Together, these chemicals make the chance of addiction even less.

And MAT practices caution through medical supervision. You can’t receive these medications without a doctor or nurse creating your dose. You won’t take these medications without a doctor or nurse giving you the dose on a regular schedule. MAT medications usually receive careful scrutiny, meaning that healthcare professionals specifically guard you against opioid addiction.

Opioid Addiction Therapy

MAT also uses behavioral, emotional and psychological counseling to safeguard against addiction. This treatment means you’ll receive both one-on-one and group-based therapies. Why would a doctor put you in the room with counselors and peers? To address the underlying emotions, circumstances or trauma which brought you to use opioids in the first place. All your MAT medications might work on your body, but that physical independence won’t last if your mindset stays off-kilter. Individual and group therapies intend to stabilize you for one-day-at-a-time recovery.

Therapy happens most during inpatient treatment, though doctors would recommend peer meetings like NA for continued recovery afterwards. NA recovery meetings (or other peer recovery communities) become crucial when you’re receiving MAT – your program may require you to take medication for months or even years after initial treatment. But however long you receive the medication (and long after), you’ll need continued peer recovery support to keep you stabilized.

What Now for MAT?

Think about how you see MAT. Do you view it as another drug? If you already attend NA meetings, this view is understandable. One NA pamphlet explains the 12 Steps work through “a program of total abstinence,” but encourages MAT-using attendees to return to meetings. That invitation draws from Tradition 3: “the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop using.” Of course, each NA meeting is autonomous and may treat MAT patients as it chooses. But anyone receiving MAT could use the encouragement of Principle 3. With the risk of relapse, NA attendance remains crucial for these people in their day-to-day recovery journeys.

Speaking of, make sure to stick around In The Rooms for your own recovery. Whether you’re just beginning addiction recovery or you’re well on your way, make sure to visit our online recovery meetings or our recovery articles. Join today, and learn how our recovery community can serve you!


1 Comment

  1. Jonathan Farmer Reply

    Suboxone has saved my life and money. Yes I still have the aches and pains but I don’t have to take pain pills now. Some days are harder than others but it’s getting better. I’m not cured but I’m getting there

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