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Airing Addiction: Demystifying Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

There are many misperceptions surrounding drug addiction and the treatment methods used to help those afflicted. Faulty thinking and misjudgments further contribute to the harmful stigma those who are suffering from the disease face.


One that’s received a lot of attention recently is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), an approach to addiction treatment that combines the use of medication in a traditional sense with counseling, education and other support. Spectrum Health Systems is a strong supporter of this research-supported method and offers access to methadone and buprenorphine, two medications commonly prescribed for addiction, at its many outpatient and inpatient treatment centers across Massachusetts.

Addiction is a chronic illness that affects an individual’s mental, physical and social well-being. Those struggling with a substance abuse use disorder often suffer a myriad of physical symptoms throughout the recovery process. The pain associated with detox and withdrawal all-too-often lead individuals back to using, or keeps them from reintegrating into society successfully. Common physical symptoms include anxiety, inability to sleep, nausea and vomiting, blurry vision and high blood pressure.

On a recent episode of Airing Addiction, our weekly podcast hosted by Vice President of Business Development, Donna Pellegrino, Dr. Jeff Baxter – Spectrum Health Systems’ Chief Medical Officer – spoke in-depth about these treatment options and sought to eliminate any fears held by people in active addiction, their loved ones or the communities in which MAT outpatient centers operate.

“Though methadone has been around more than 60 years, there’s still a lot of people who don’t understand how it works and are biased against its use,” said Dr. Baxter. "When somebody uses an opiate drug every day, such as heroin, their body gets used to it. When you take it away, their body gets very sick. This drives them back to using the drug over and over again. Methadone interrupts that. It stabilizes the sickness and allows people to go to work, go to school, take care of their families, come to treatment and participate in their lives soberly without having to worry about getting sick."

If a person is addicted, medication allows him or her to regain a normal state of mind, free of drug-induced highs and lows. It frees the person from thinking all the time about the drug. It can reduce problems of withdrawal and craving. These changes can give the person the chance to focus on the lifestyle changes that lead back to healthy living.

Taking medication for an opioid addiction is not swapping one drug for another. There are no addictive qualities to these medications, and the process should be viewed the same as taking a medication to control heart disease or diabetes.

According to a 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a combination of methadone treatment and a comprehensive program of rehabilitation was found to be associated with marked improvements for clients in such areas as jobs, returning to school and family reconciliation. The researchers noted that careful medical supervision and many social services were necessary, and stressed that both the medication and the supporting program were essential to success. Offering this type of treatment to our clients is part of our holistic approach to addiction recovery.

Tune into this special episode of Airing Addiction here. For even more background on MAT and Spectrum Health Systems’ program, click here to access an in-depth eBook on the topic.

Airing Addiction is a weekly radio show hosted by Donna Pellegrino. Donna and her guests talk about living with active addiction, living in recovery and everything in between. You can catch it live on Sundays at 10am ET on WTAG radio or subscribe via iTunes or SoundCloud.

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