Drug addiction is a serious problem. Data from the National Institutes of Health shows 67,367 reported deaths due to overdose in 2018 alone, with many substance misuse related death rates increasing per year. As a nation, we are beginning to understand that addiction can impact anyone. Even though society is becoming more educated and aware of addiction, a strong bias remains around some of the treatment options used to address it. SAMHSA reports that medication-assisted treatment is clinically effective and helpful for a variety of needs during the recovery process. However, organizations such as the FDA suggest there is stigma in the way of providing MAT to those that need it.

Not Just a Simple Drug Swap

It is a common—but inaccurate—assumption that medication-assisted treatment for addiction is simply swapping one drug addiction for another. Medication-assisted treatment for addiction is intended to be part of a treatment plan, not the only treatment for the individual. MAT has never been as uninvolved as swapping out one addiction for another.

Actually, MAT uses a holistic approach to treat addiction that involves individualized care. It includes medical, vocational, educational, and other resources required under federal law for these programs. This is also paired with behavioral treatment, such as individual and group counseling, which has been proven to increase the efficacy of recovery attempts.

Essentially, the medication involved in this form of addiction treatment is designed to address the dysfunctional relationship with an abused substance by combating withdrawal, negative conditioning, and maladaptive behaviors while the individual focuses on improving other life conditions through therapy, medical care, and vocational/educational guidance provided with a MAT program. Some feel that medication-assisted detoxification may be an integral first step to assure success for individuals that are physically dependent on a drug to avoid relapse during the process of recovery.

Outcomes in Medication-Assisted Addiction Treatment

There has been much research on the efficacy of MAT programs and their related drugs.  For starters, research posted on the SAMHSA website states that MAT is clinically effective in lessening the need for inpatient addiction treatment. Furthermore, MAT combined with counseling improves the chances of recovery. Methadone, a well-known medication used for opioid addiction, is very effective in reducing opioid addiction in longitudinal studies as well as decreasing HIV transmission and death rates. Other longitudinal research on buprenorphine and naloxone (used for opioid addiction) shows that individuals using these drugs were 2x as likely to remain abstinent as the control and 10% were no longer diagnosed as being drug dependent.

Not a Quick Fix

It is important to note that some instances of heroin/opioid or other addictions require long-term medication therapy. Research showed that some individuals relapse quickly after medication ceased. This reflects the FDA’s suggestion that there should be no maximum recommendation for this kind of medication-assisted treatment, including the potential for life-long medication-assisted sobriety. This course of action should not be frowned upon, however, as this care is revealed to allow drug-dependent individuals to bring stability to their lives by remaining clean, holding down jobs, and leading productive lives.

Breaking Down the Barriers

Office-based treatment programs expanded the number of individuals that can receive MAT with the Drug Addiction Treatment Act in 2002, but there are still many barriers for people who could use this treatment. A significant barrier: prescribing physicians with the required DEA waivers are hard to access. This causes poor program adherence and prevents people from starting treatment in the first place. Insurance can be another problem, as many policies or benefits programs neglect to cover MAT. Additionally, lack of knowledge is a barrier that causes stigma, even in the medical care community. This leaves many to feel that MAT is simply trading one drug for another. Therefore, it’s very important for society to put solutions in place to lessen stigma and increase the accessibility of MAT.

At this time, professionals feel it is imperative to lessen the stigma and barriers to treatment. They’re working towards these goals by implementing solutions such as:

  • Increasing access to MAT by allowing nurse practitioners or physicians assistants to prescribe
  • Expanding addiction treatment into primary care
  • Increasing insurance coverage
  • Spreading knowledge on MAT

Innovative solutions such as drive-through service can help individuals feel more comfortable seeking MAT. A pharmacy in Monongalia County of West Virginia switched to drive-through only during COVID-19 to improve social distancing measures. The unexpected result? The pharmacy saw an increase in the number of people looking for information or action steps for beginning MAT.

Increasing the amount of MAT access allows more individuals to contribute to society and live healthier, happier lives.

Help Reduce the Stigma

Help reduce the stigma behind drug addiction treatment by educating yourself on how it works. A simple place to start? Check out the answers to these frequently asked questions about drug addiction treatment. Take a deeper dive by teaching yourself some of the common terminology around MAT, then learn about the medications used in treatment. If you’re the type who likes to know the science behind the solution, check out this article on the science behind MAT.

If you’re looking for a doctor who treats addiction using buprenorphine, search this directory to find medication-assisted treatment near you.

Andrea Kubicek
Author

Andrea Kubicek has a bachelor's in psychology and is working toward a master's in clinical mental health counseling. She is a member of the International Honor Society in Social Sciences, Pi Gamma Mu, and has previously worked for Wisconsin's state benefits system. On the side, she is studying natural and traditional medicine in order to better understand health in a more holistic way.

2 Comments

  1. MAT works! the Stigma surrounding this program and others like it must be destroyed!! Have an open mind people!!! it could save a life!

  2. Alexis A Bell Reply

    MAT works! This article made me emotional. As an RN working in Addiction Medicine and in recovery myself, I think Suboxone is going to keep giving people the lives they and society wants; productive members in their community, employed and contributing to helping others. I am going back for my Master’s in Community Health Education and I will not stop until this stigma is erased. Thank you so much for this!

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