Medication-Assisted Treatment: What You Should Know

Opioid addiction significantly changes the brain. If a person has become dependent on these drugs, they may experience severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms upon sudden cessation of opioids. Those who participate in medication-assisted treatment are able to manage their symptoms while gradually recovering from opioid use disorder. Read today’s blog post for more information about MAT.


About Opioid Addiction

Many people first use opioids when they are recovering from a surgical procedure. For example, teens whose wisdom teeth are removed are typically prescribed these medications. Other common opioid drugs include hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Percocet/OxyContin), fentanyl, morphine and codeine. However, while these medications may relieve pain, they carry a significant potential for addiction.

Individuals who discover the pain-relieving effects or euphoria associated with opioids can begin to misuse their prescriptions. Eventually, some seek a cheaper alternative in the form of heroin. The physical changes caused by these drugs result in strong cravings and compulsive, continued use – even if someone sincerely wants to stop using. That’s when medication-assisted treatment becomes an especially effective path to recovery.


Medication-Assisted Treatment with Naltrexone and Buprenorphine

The aim of medication-assisted treatment is to help a patient to gradually taper off of opioids while avoiding painful, uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Opioid drugs themselves block pain, slow a person’s respiration, calm the user and trigger pain receptors.

These drugs also create abnormalities in the brain’s dopamine production, resulting in a feeling of euphoria. People who enjoy this feeling may begin using over and over again to achieve the same rush. However, this is not without consequence. Over time, continued opioid use leads to changes in the way the brain communicates with the body.

Short-term side effects of opioid use include fatigue, euphoria, nausea and numbness. In the long term, individuals may experience anxiety, depression, hypoxia, hyperalgesia and hallucinations. Areas of the brain impacted by long-term opioid use include the portions responsible for long-term memory, thought processes, social behaviors and decision-making.

Medications like naltrexone and buprenorphine interact with the brain’s opioid receptors. Unlike prescription painkillers or heroin, the drugs used in MAT do not create the euphoric sensations associated with substance use. When taken as directed, buprenorphine and naltrexone fulfill the body’s opioid cravings, all without harmful drug-seeking behavior, euphoria or its associated difficulties.

Put simply, medication-assisted treatment works because it:

  • Relieves physical and psychological cravings
  • Normalizes a person’s brain chemistry
  • Improves functioning
  • Blocks the euphoric effects of opioids
  • Allows the body to return to stasis
  • Addresses withdrawal symptoms
  • Blocks the sedative effects of opioids

Research shows that medication-assisted treatment improves patient outcomes, increases treatment retention and boosts a person’s ability to maintain employment.

It is important to note that MAT is just one tool in a treatment center’s toolbox. We believe that opioid use disorder is best treated holistically. At Cumberland Heights, we couple medication-assisted treatment with rigorous clinical programming and 12-Step work.


Myths About MAT

Unfortunately, this treatment approach is heavily stigmatized, even within the recovery community. It is important to separate fact from fiction when seeking help for an opioid addiction.

Some people view medication-assisted treatment as simply replacing one addictive drug with another. This is not the case. At Cumberland Heights, we have found through our Safe Start Program that naltrexone and buprenorphine are especially effective to patients affected by moderate to severe opioid use disorder. Over time, a treatment provider can adjust a person’s dosage to taper off of these substances.

Other harmful myths about MAT are that it increases overdose risk (proven false by the National Institutes of Health), that it disrupts “true” recovery (a claim that misunderstands recovery as a concept) and that stopping on your own is equally viable (it is much more difficult to cease opioid use on one’s own).

If you are curious about medication-assisted treatment, we encourage you to speak with your primary care physician or another trusted healthcare professional. They can refer you to the appropriate level of care for your substance use disorder.


CDC Planning to Study Medication-Assisted Treatment

In the winter of 2017, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control announced an intention to study medication-assisted treatment. Their research seeks to examine the ways in which patient outcomes vary across the three main medications used for MAT. These outcomes will be compared to those who have received counseling alone.

The CDC hopes that this study will answer questions about the effectiveness of buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone, as well as medication-free interventions. They will also assess patient characteristics and program factors which may have some bearing on patient outcomes.

Recruitment and enrollment began soon after their announcement, and this summer, the CDC will unveil their findings. Patients from all over the United States will be included among those surveyed – while Tennessee is not on the list, our neighbors in Kentucky, West Virginia and other states with proven opioid epidemics will be studied. Cumberland Heights is hopeful that we will gain some important information about the effectiveness of certain treatments for opioid use disorder.


MAT in Tennessee

If you are struggling with opioid use disorder, or know someone who is, help is here. The team at Cumberland Heights understands how difficult it can be to overcome addiction on your own. That’s why we provide clinically advanced care to people throughout the state of Tennessee. To learn more about medication-assisted treatment through Cumberland Heights, contact our admissions team today.