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MAT for Opiate Addiction

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Article Contents

The current statistics are mind boggling. Opiate addiction is at an all-time high. In 2016 alone, over 63,000 people were killed by drug overdoses which includes prescription opioid painkillers and heroin. Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opiate addiction relieves the chemical imbalances in the addict’s body. This reduces the addict’s withdrawal symptoms and the psychological cravings. In this way, MAT for opiate addiction substantially improves the odds of successful recovery for people who are addicted to opiates including heroin and prescription painkillers.

This is critical because in the United States, addiction to opiates has reached seismic proportions. In 2015, there were more accidental drug overdoses than there were car accidents. According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics, 115 people die every day from opioid abuse. An estimated 40% of opioid deaths involved prescription opioids.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), both opioids and opiates have the same end-goal — to relieve the user’s pain.  However, they can be illegally used (recreationally) and are extremely addictive.

In fact, nearly 80% of heroin users reported misusing prescription drugs prior to heroin. Prescription opiate abusers who rely on legally obtained drugs to get their ‘fix’, are more likely to seek out alternatives once these (prescriptions) run out. For this reason, they are more likely to eventually develop a heroin addiction than a non-opiate abuser. This is because the user will be able to experience a similar high at a lower price.

What Are Opiates?

So, what is the difference between opioids and opiates? An opiate is a natural drug derived from the poppy plant. Opiates encompass a variety of drugs, from legally prescribed drugs such as codeine, and morphine to illegal drugs such as heroin and opium.

Medically speaking, the term “opioid” refers to any substance that binds to the body’s opioid receptor sites, something that both opioids and opiates do. Examples of opioids include the prescription painkillers Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Fentanyl and Methadone.

However, technically speaking, not all opioid drugs are opiates, though ALL opiates are opioids.

Even if the substance is legally prescribed, long term use of such drugs will put the user at risk. People who use opiates will develop a tolerance to them. This means that the same drug, in the same amount no longer has the same effect as it once did. So, people tend to take more and more of the same drug to achieve the desired ‘high’. Continually increasing the dosage puts one at risk of an overdose.

MAT For Opiate Addiction

Long term users of opiates will feel potential psychological side effects due to the brain becoming reliant on the opiate to produce endorphins rather than creating these neurotransmitters naturally. Since endorphins help to relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria, long term use of opiates may result in harmful consequences.

In the early stages of opiate abuse, users may experience confusion and disorientation, a loss of memory and even amnesia. An opiate user suffering from these side effects or worse psychological effects will face two main risks: He/she will look for more or different opiates and have thoughts of suicide or even commit suicide.

Habitual users may experience increased psychological issues, such as mood swings, hallucinations, delusions or delirium, which eventually can lead to severe depression. Other side effects include:

  •    Paranoia.
  •    Increase in mental health issues.
  •    Less emotional wellbeing.
  •    Increase in symptoms of mental illness.

Some addicts find that opiate addiction affects the way they cope with situations. They experience extreme levels of negativity and mood swings. This, in turn, leads to further stress and alienation from family, friends and colleagues who struggle to deal with such a difference in the opiate user’s personality and character. These changes in behavior can, for some, be the hardest to deal with and can have the greatest impact on the support individuals are able to give.

Treatment professionals can prescribe medication assisted treatment for opiate addiction to help opiate abusers with the withdrawal process. Such medications reduce the cravings for opiates. In fact, MAT for opiate addiction has been proven to be an effective solution for recovery from opiate addiction.

Pre MAT Program

When a person addicted to opiates wants stop the use of drugs, such as Morphine, Codeine and Heroin, it is vitally important to know what the options are in order to help them come off the medication for good.

Entering into an opiate detox program is a big step for opiate addicts. Although it will feel like life is ending, it’s not. A detox program is the start of a new life. If possible, check into a detox program at an inpatient medical facility or a qualified treatment/recovery center. This is because these facilities provide a clean environment staffed by professionals dedicated to helping the addict kick the habit.

Here are a few tips to help ensure the MAT for opiate addiction program is successful.

  • Get a sleep aid from a qualified medical practitioner, if needed.
  • Talk to family and friends about wanting to stop using opiates; they can be your greatest support.
  • Arrange for treatment to take place once detox is finished.
  • Go straight to ongoing treatment following detox.

Transition

The transition period is understandably the most traumatic. Addicts benefit from an in-patient detox and rehabilitation facility because it puts them in a safe environment, with round the clock care. They are removed from temptation and are unable to seek out other opiates, relapse or form other addictions as a substitute.

Medications Prescribed

An individual who tries the MAT for opiate addiction approach can go through  withdrawal more successfully. It makes it easier for the patient to withdraw from the drug gradually and in stages. The addict may find the ‘cold turkey’ method to be extremely traumatic. He/she can experience unpleasant side effects such as dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea. Also, the patient may need psychiatric medication to treat depression,  anxiety and thoughts of suicide. These are common side effects of opiate use and withdrawal.

MAT for opiate addiction can help suppress withdrawal symptoms during detoxification which is the first step in the process of getting clean. There are a variety of medications available by prescription that can help a patient withdraw more comfortably from an opiate, making it more tolerable. Opiate addicts may safely take MAT medication for opiate addiction for months, years, several years, or even a lifetime. It is important to note that an addict who wants to stop a MAT program must should discuss this with a doctor ahead of time.

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT treatment for opiate addiction will involve four stages:

  1. The physician will keep a close watch to make sure the patient adjusts to the medication safely
  2. When the patient is on the right dosage and stabilizes with the body and brain having  adjusted to the new medication
  3. The long-term use of medication to help the patient remain drug free and to rebuild a life in recovery
  4. The final phase involves medically managing withdrawal by gradually reduced doses

Depending on specific situations, medical professionals may prescribe doses of methadone – a heroin substitute – or buprenorphine to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

It should be noted that with all MAT for opiate addiction programs, medication is to be prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counselling and participation in social support programs.

Methadone

Methadone works by changing how the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It tricks the brain into thinking it’s still getting the abused drug. In fact, the person is not getting high from it and feels normal.

Methadone takes away the pain of withdrawal and blocks the ‘high’ of opiate drugs such as heroin, morphine and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Taken once a day, Methadone is offered in solid (pill), liquid, and wafer forms. A dose of methadone provides relief from pain which lasts about four to eight hours.

Methadone is effective in higher doses, particularly for heroin users, helping them stay in treatment programs longer.

Methadone is the only approved drug used in MAT for pregnant or breastfeeding women. They must inform their treatment provider before taking methadone.

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine blocks and reduces cravings for the abused drug. This medication can come in a pill form or sublingual tablet that is placed under the tongue.

Naltrexone

Naltrexone works differently than methadone and buprenorphine. If a person using naltrexone relapses and uses the abused drug, naltrexone blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of the opiate. This prevents the recovering addict from experiencing the ‘high’ he/she used to get from abusing opiates.

Suboxone

Suboxone is prescribed to reduce withdrawal symptoms. It mimics the effects of the opiate and decreases the brain’s craving for the drug. Suboxone can protect the addict from withdrawal symptoms for about 24 hours. In some cases, Suboxone can work for up to three days.

Clonidine

Clonidine is prescribed to ease the patients’ psychological discomfort during Oxycontin withdrawal.

Naloxone

Naloxone is an injectable drug used to prevent an opioid overdose. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Naloxone is one of a number of medications considered essential to a functioning health care system.

Naloxone has not been recommended as a primary treatment for Oxycontin or other opioid withdrawal. However, medical researchers are investigating the possibility that it might eventually be viable. This medication works by binding the opioid receptors in the brain faster than the opioid medications themselves do.

Therefore, if a person overdoses on heroin on prescription opiates and stops breathing, Naloxone can be given restore breathing temporarily.

Currently, Naloxone is used by paramedics in several states throughout America to stop overdose symptoms long enough for the user to be taken to the hospital.  

Side Effects Of MAT For Opiate Addiction

Most addicts in recovery will experience some side effects. Talk to your physician if these (side effects) are severe or do not go away. Individuals who have been through the MAT for opiate addiction program have reported the following side effects:

  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased sexual desire/ability
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Limp muscle

Negative Press And Misconceptions

Using MAT for opiate addiction seems counter-intuitive but it is not. It actually saves lives. However, getting the dosage right is critical for an effective Medication Assisted Treatment for opiate addiction program. Together with therapy and counselling, MAT for opiate addiction can help to successfully treat these disorders, and for some people, can help to sustain recovery. Compared to other options which can involve long periods of rehabilitation, MAT for opiate addiction programs have proven to be effective.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves medications used in MAT for opiate addiction. Such programs are clinically driven and customized to each patient’s needs. However, medication assisted treatment for opiate addiction cannot be combined with anxiety treatment medications. Mixing and matching these can prove to be fatal.

MAT for opiate addiction helps to relieve the cravings and withdrawal symptoms caused by chemical imbalances in the body. There is the misconception that MAT just substitutes one drug for another. This is wrong and far from the truth. The medications used in the MAT for opiate addiction program coupled with behavioral therapies are effective in the treatment of opiate addiction. Therefore, they can help people sustain their recovery.

Such MAT for opiate addiction programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of opiate addiction. When used in the proper manner, MAT medications do not adversely affect a person’s intelligence, mental capability, physical functioning, or employability. A medication assisted treatment for opiate addiction provides a more comprehensive, individually tailored program of medication and behavioral therapy.

Medication assisted treatment for opiate addiction also significantly reduces the need for inpatient detoxification services. It also includes support services that address the needs of most patients.

However, MAT for opiate addiction medications should only be dispensed through a SAMHSA-certified OTP (opioid treatment program). Because there is such a high potential for misuse, many MAT medications are controlled substances.

Efficacy Of MAT For Opiate Addiction

When withdrawing from opiate abuse, many will find that getting sleep is difficult for a few weeks. A non-narcotic sleep aid prescribed by a doctor will help although the first 48 hours will be the hardest. It can take up to 6 months to start sleeping properly but if it is longer than that and sleep is still a problem, don’t panic, it can take longer.

To say that recovery takes time sounds non-committal but that isn’t the case. How quickly the brain recovers and returns to its normal functioning takes time. Some people have said it takes 6 months to a year, others many years, but it is very individual. Opiate addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to recover from but it is worth it.

A 90 day rehab treatment has a higher success rate than short-term treatments. The individual can learn and get used to his/her new recovery skills. In addition, the longer period also allows time for the brain to reset itself.

A journey into recovery starts by summoning up courage to enter into a medication assisted treatment for opiate addiction program and/or12-step recovery program. Working through addiction will be more successful through a MAT for opiate addiction program and medical research emphatically backs up this method. But it doesn’t stop there. Once you complete the medication assisted treatment for opiate addiction detox program, long-term programs can help you remain clean.

Take the First Step Today

At Recovering Champions we help people overcome opioid addiction.  Our professional and caring staff guides all patients through the entire process from the starting phase to the recovery phase and beyond.  Our licensed and certified staff ensures that all patients strive for their goal of reaching recovery and remaining drug free.  If you or someone you know is suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, we are here to help.  Contact us today, so that you or your loved one can get on the road to recovery, and live a longer and healthier life.

Written by Recovering Champions Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

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