Debunking myths surrounding medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction

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Debunking myths surrounding medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction

Debunking myths surrounding medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction

The United States is in the throes of an unprecedented opioid epidemic that has been making its presence felt for almost two decades beginning 1999, when prescription opioids first started becoming readily available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 183,000 people have died from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2015. In 2015, deaths from opioid overdose reached a record high when more than 33,000 Americans died, which was more than the previous years.

Breaking free from opioid addiction is daunting because it is not a moral or mental weakness, but a chronic medical condition that occurs due to changes in the brain from consuming substances. Once an addiction develops, it is hard to break free from the vicious cycle. Any attempt to quit abruptly creates intensely unpleasant symptoms forcing people to relapse.

Treatment for opioid addiction

Effective addiction treatment comprises a plethora of options, including a combination of counselling, behavioral therapies and medication. Drugs like buprenorphine, its combination with naloxone (Suboxone), naltrexone (Revia), monthly injection of Vivitrol, or methadone are effective along with the 12-step program. Medications usually aim to ease the patient’s withdrawal symptoms and thereby prevent relapse.

Unfortunately, there are many myths surrounding medication-assisted treatment (MAT), preventing their wide use and accessibility. Less than 50 percent of the private sector substance treatment programs in the U.S. offer MAT and only about one-third of patients with opioid dependence at these treatment programs actually receive it. Almost all American states lack capacity to fulfill the need for MAT among OUD patients.

MAT – myths and facts

Despite overwhelming evidence of MAT’s success in treating OUD, it still has a negative impression due to unfounded negative beliefs among people. As a result, even when it is clinically appropriate to use, people shun it, depriving those qualifying for a successful treatment option. Here are some myths and facts related to MAT:

Myth: MAT just substitutes one substance of abuse with another.

Fact: Methadone and buprenorphine may be opioid-based but are fundamentally different from short-acting opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers. They reduce drug cravings and prevent relapse. They do not cause a “high,” although some physical dependence develops. Injectable naltrexone is not opioid-based and does not result in physical dependence.

Myth: Addiction medications prevent “true recovery” and is short-term.

Fact: True recovery means not using illicit drugs and thereby not experiencing euphoria, sedation or other functional disabilities. True recovery ensures one does not meet the diagnostic criteria for addiction such as loss of control over drug use, etc. It is achievable by MAT.

Myth: MAT should not be a long-term treatment.

Fact: The duration of MAT is patient-specific and not based on one-size-fits-all principle. Besides, different medication options (agonists, partial agonists and antagonists) cater to the specific needs of an individual patient. It follows a “phased approach” as recommended by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), beginning with stabilization by managing withdrawals, inducing medication and psychosocial counseling. The middle phase involves medication maintenance. The third phase is a part of an ongoing rehabilitation process — physicians may opt to either taper off medications or extend it for long-term maintenance depending on the patient’s clinical needs. For some patients, MAT duration could even be indefinite.

Myth: MAT is no better than abstinence.

Fact: MAT is evidence-based. It has the approval of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Medical Association, NIDA, SAMHSA, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc. as the first line of treatment.

Myth: Insurance plans do not cover MAT.

Fact: Medicare, Medicaid, and other forms of health insurance cover addiction medications under varying conditions. The Affordable Care Act now requires most insurers to cover addiction treatment benefits though not all insurance plans cover every available addiction medication. For buprenorphine-naloxone, a review of Medicaid policies in 2013 revealed that 50 Medicaid programs include medication on their Preferred Drug Lists (PDL), all 51 Medicaid programs include disulfiram and oral naltrexone and 31 programs include methadone on their PDLs.

Getting help for addiction

If you or your loved one is grappling with substance abuse, contact the treatment advisors of the Arizona Drug Addiction Helpline to know more about the best drug rehabilitation centers in Arizona. Call our 24/7 helpline number 866-576-4147 or chat online to avail services of a quality drug rehabilitation center clinic in Arizona.

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