Is Medication-Assisted Treatment Replacing One Drug with Another Drug?
Yes, essentially you are replacing one potent opioid with a less potent opioid to help the patient make it through detox and therapy. The biggest barrier with opioid addiction is the intense cravings and dangerous withdrawals. The withdrawal symptoms can only be managed with narcotic medication, which is why there is medical detox. What makes this process safe for an addict is the controlled environment, medical supervision, and prescribed amount. When opioid medications are taken under the direction of a prescribing doctor, they are safe to use. Addicts may also look at medication differently as a motivation to help them stop abusing drugs. Because of the dosages, times of use, and the methods of administration are all monitored, the addict can safely use them in combination with treatment and therapy. When buprenorphine is used during detox, it drastically helps the patient overcome the withdrawal pain. Some opioid addicts are using such large quantities of pain medication or heroin, they cannot stop without it potentially killing them. Withdrawal symptoms for severe opiate addiction can become so severe, there is a risk of serious physical injury or even death.
Medication-assisted treatment has proven effective when done with therapy and counseling. In fact, MAT programs are required by law to provide behavioral counseling or some type of therapy to help the addict. However, these drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine do create a physical dependency. Methadone is a full opioid agonist and creates opioid dependence similar to heroin or morphine. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist and is less potent and the effects last longer, but there is still the potential for dependence. The goal for a recovering opiate addict should be to work towards becoming completely drug-free. There is a push for some opioid addicts to continue using these medications after treatment. However, there are other healthier ways to manage cravings and work on your sobriety during aftercare.