Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of certain medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. According to the US government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, MAT aims to “provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat these disorders, and for some people struggling with addiction, MAT can help sustain recovery.”
MAT is primarily used for the treatment of addiction to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers containing opioids. MAT is not appropriate for all substance use disorders.
There are three FDA-approved medications commonly used to treat opioid addiction:
Methadone has been used for decades to treat people who are addicted to heroin and narcotic pain medicines. When taken as prescribed, it is safe and effective. It allows people to recover from their addiction and to reclaim active and meaningful lives.
Naltrexone is approved for the treatment of patients with opioid use disorder (OUD). Naltrexone blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine. It is also indicated for alcohol addiction. When used as a treatment for alcohol use disorder, naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication. This allows people with alcohol addiction to reduce their drinking behaviors enough to remain motivated to stay in treatment and avoid relapses. Naltrexone is not addictive nor does it react adversely with alcohol.
Buprenorphine represents the latest advance in medication-assisted treatment. It was approved for clinical use in 2002 by the Food and Drug Administration. In combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, Buprenorphine provides a whole-patient approach to the treatment of opioid use disorder. When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine is safe and effective.
Unlike methadone treatment, which must be performed in a highly structured clinic, buprenorphine is the first medication to treat OUD that is permitted to be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices, significantly increasing treatment access.
Medication-assisted treatment provides a comprehensive, individually tailored program of medication and behavioral therapy. MAT has been shown to improve patient survival, increase retention in treatment, and decrease illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders.
The ultimate goal of MAT is a full recovery, including the ability to live a self-directed life.