Spectrum Health Systems

Understanding Spectrum’s Outpatient Treatment for Opioid Addiction – Part 1: What is Medication-Assisted Treatment

Published On: February 3rd, 2016Categories: Treatment & Recovery

The process where one becomes addicted to either opiates or opioids is very complex, involving significant changes to the brain in the areas responsible for processing pleasure. Even an individual committed to quitting the use of these drugs will likely find it difficult due to associated cravings and the fear of withdrawal. But like any chronic disease, treatment is available.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a highly effective form of treatment for opioid addiction. MAT includes the use of medications along with counseling and support from family and friends. It is available on an outpatient basis which allows individuals to remain productive while working to change problematic behaviors. Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, opioids which effectively “trick” the brain into thinking it’s receiving the problem drug, or naltrexone which blocks the effects of problem drugs, are most commonly prescribed.

Some people feel the idea of replacing one substance with another is simply switching one problem for another, but in reality that’s not the case at all. MAT is an evidence-based, medically monitored approach which helps many individuals achieve long-term recovery.

A mother of one of our clients recently had this to say about her experience with her daughter beginning a MAT regimen, “What I’ve learned is that the path towards recovery is different for everyone. For some it may involve a low dose of methadone. Sure it means inconvenience and dependence on medication that will require weaning, but it may also be what saved my daughter from the ultimate tragedy.”

Spectrum’s MAT programs offer the following medications:

Methadone works by lessening the painful symptoms of opiate withdrawal and blocking the euphoric effects of opiate drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Since it can be safely taken right at the start of recovery before any signs of withdrawal, methadone is an ideal drug for someone who wants to make a change in their life but is unable to attend an inpatient treatment program. Methadone is offered in pill, liquid, and wafer forms and is taken once a day.

Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
Buprenorphine, like opioids, produces effects such as euphoria or respiratory depression. With buprenorphine, however, these effects are weaker than heroin and methadone. Buprenorphine’s effects increase with each dose until at moderate doses they level off, even with subsequent dose increases. This “ceiling effect” lowers the risk of misuse, dependency and side effects. Also, because of buprenorphine’s long-acting agent, individuals may not have to take it every day. A buprenorphine regimen can only be started once withdrawal symptoms have commenced.

Naltrexone blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids. It works differently than buprenorphine and methadone which suppress cravings. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors and is reported to reduce opioid cravings. There is no abuse and diversion potential with naltrexone. Naltrexone can only be taken after all opioids are out of the user’s system — usually 7-10 after withdrawal begins. The injectable form of the drug (Vivitrol) is administered once a month. If a person relapses and uses the problem drug, naltrexone prevents the feeling of getting high.

For more information about MAT and how it can help you or a loved one:

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