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male doctor holding digital tablet reviewing medication assisted treatment plan

The opioid crisis is at the forefront of many Ohioans’ minds. For those in recovery from opioid addiction, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is one of many treatment options. MAT carries some misconceptions about what it is, what it is not and its effectiveness at treating opioid use disorders. The MAT program at Anchor Addiction and Wellness Center works to dispel these misunderstandings as we work to help patients dealing with opioid addiction.

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

MAT is an approach to treating opioid use disorder (OUD) that combines medication and psychological treatment, taking a whole-person approach to help an individual recover from opioid addiction. MAT shouldn’t be confused with medically assisted detox, which utilizes medication to ease the discomfort associated with drug withdrawals while a person detoxes in a medically supervised environment. 

The medication prescribed in MAT is specifically approved and used for an opioid treatment program to decrease physical dependence on a drug. Certain medications help block or reduce the pleasant or euphoric effects of opioids, providing less of a high and therefore less of a reason to take the drug. Combined with behavioral therapy to develop healthy coping skills and address the root of the addiction, MAT can be a great resource for people trying to get sober and stay sober.

There are a myriad of misconceptions about MAT, so let’s clarify what it is not. MAT isn’t a replacement of one addiction with another.  Opioid use disorder is listed in the DSM-5 as a “problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.” It’s a medical condition that MAT treats with a combination of approved medications and psychological treatment.

male doctor's hands with medication assisted treatment drugs
female therapist talking with her client reviewing medication assisted treatment plan

Which Medications Are Used in MAT?

The FDA has approved three medications for use in treating OUD: naltrexone, buprenorphine and methadone. These medications may appear under brand names like Vivitrol (naltrexone) or Methadose (methadone), among others. They’re considered opioid agonists, which means they interact with the opioid receptors in a person’s brain. Naltrexone and buprenorphine block the effects of opioids, essentially defeating the purpose of ingesting them. Methadone, on the other hand, activates the brain’s opioid receptors to reduce psychological cravings and dependence on the drug of choice itself.

One of the most common misconceptions about MAT and the medications used during treatment is that patients are replacing one addiction with another or that the medication is simply a way for those in recovery to get high again. In reality, though they’re also classified as opioids, there’s no high from any of the three approved medications. They help regulate a person’s bodily functions and physiological well-being after their body has become dependent on their drug of choice.

Relapses can happen when someone tries to stop taking a drug alone with no medication or help. They then endure the uncomfortable experience of opioid withdrawal, which causes unpleasant side effects like nausea, vomiting, chills and sweats, shaking, convulsions and, in some cases, even death. 

Opioid withdrawal occurs because the person’s body and brain have adjusted to a substance and depend on it to function normally. When that’s taken away, withdrawal symptoms set in as the body struggles to function without the chemical it thinks it needs, and the person enduring the withdrawal often goes back to the drug of choice to ease the symptoms. It’s important to understand that this is an actual physical dependence and not a sign of weakness or unwillingness to recover. MAT helps regulate body and brain chemistry so people can sustain recovery from OUD and function without the drug they’ve quit.

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

Evidence continues to point toward MAT being an effective method to treat opioid addiction; the medications used in MAT have been found to significantly reduce the risk of death due to opioid use disorder. 

Due to the way opioids affect the body and the way physiological opioid dependence is formed, stopping usage “cold turkey” can be dangerous. Depending on the time a person has been using their drug of choice, they could become dehydrated and experience an increase of sodium in their blood, which can lead to heart failure. 

In addition to reducing the death rate among people recovering from opioid addiction, MAT focuses on the person in recovery and their life. A person’s medication during treatment is just part of their general treatment plan, which often includes counseling and behavioral therapies to address the root of the addiction and other stressors. 

Opioid use disorder treatment is different for every individual, and many people who attend detox treatment but don’t continue into a program afterward report feeling unsure of what direction to go after their initial detox. They may return to a home or environment with a host of triggers, such as family instability or being around other people using drugs, while they’re trying to stay sober. These triggers and feelings of uncertainty can lead to relapses. The whole-patient treatment approach associated with MAT aims to support the body’s needs with medication while supporting the individual in developing healthy coping strategies and creating a new life past addiction.

Side Effects of Medication-Assisted Treatment

The medication used in MAT may come with side effects, which vary depending on what’s prescribed and the individual taking it. Some common side effects of MAT medications are listed below.

Potential Side Effects of Buprenorphine

  • Constipation
  • Flushing or sweating
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Potential Side Effects of Naltrexone

  • Body pain, such as muscle cramps and/or joint pain
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Stiffness

What to Expect at Anchor Addiction and Wellness Center

Anchor Addiction and Wellness Center is an outpatient opioid addiction treatment center located in Chillicothe, Ohio. Our goal is to treat the entire person, not just the addiction, by using MAT and social services to help you recover. We accept patients throughout the area and provide outpatient treatment at our single location in Chillicothe. Here, you’ll find a team that’s invested in your recovery and wants to create a treatment plan just for you and your circumstances.

Call  or Reach out to Learn More

Are you struggling with opioid use disorder? You’re not alone. Recovery is possible, and you’re worth it. Contact Anchor Addiction and Wellness Center at (740) 779-6612 or book an appointment to learn more about how we can help.