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What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-Assisted Treatment
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Medically Reviewed by Dr. Phillip Moore, Chief Medical Officer at Gaudenzia

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an effective, evidence-based approach to treating substance use disorder (SUD) and reducing the risk of relapse and overdose while sustaining long-term recovery. Tailored to suit individual needs, MAT uses FDA-approved medications and, when used in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI), is considered the “gold standard” for substance use disorder treatment.  

Seeking drug detox treatment PA? Please call our 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) today.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment Used For?

MAT is often used to treat opioid use disorders (OUD) concerning opioids like heroin, fentanyl, or prescription drugs that contain opioids. MAT can also be used to assist individuals with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The FDA-approved medications used in MAT help stabilize brain chemistry, relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and block the euphoric effects or “highs” produced by substances like opioids.

MAT can help normalize body functions and has been shown to help with the following:

  • Increasing Treatment Retention
  • Improving Birth Outcomes Among Pregnant Women with SUD
  • Decreasing Relapse and Overdose Rates
  • Improving the Odds of Gaining and Maintaining Employment
  • Decreasing Illicit or Destructive Behaviors
  • Lowering the Risk of Contracting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C Due to Relapse

It’s important to note that MAT is an effective, evidence-based treatment approach and does not simply substitute one drug for another. MAT saves lives and is cost-effective. The goal of MAT is to support full recovery and the ability of an individual to live an independent, self-directed, and productive life.

How Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?

Drug withdrawal symptoms and cravings result from chemical imbalances in the body. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal syndrome may include:

  • Chills
  • A Runny Nose
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle Aches and Generalized Discomfort
  • Restlessness

Symptoms can mimic those of the flu or a viral syndrome. The extreme discomfort of these drug withdrawal symptoms interferes with an individual’s ability to stop using substances on their own. As a result, an individual may relapse after a short period of time and continue to use drugs. If, even after a short period of sobriety, drugs are once again taken at levels used during prior long-term use, the individual will have a higher potential for overdose.

Opioid withdrawal can be life-threatening. MAT provides a safe, effective way to transition from using heroin and other dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its derivatives. MAT attenuates and simplifies the withdrawal management process.

Here is a helpful explainer of how MAT works from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

Types of MAT Medications

Different types of MAT medications interact with the body in different ways. A qualified professional can evaluate an individual’s needs and help create an appropriate treatment plan.

FDA-approved medications commonly used for MAT in treating OUD fall within the following categories:

MAT Medications: Full Agonists

Full agonists bind to — and activate — opioid receptors. They have a slower onset and longer duration of action compared to heroin or fentanyl. Because of the longer duration of action, doses are started low and gradually increased to minimize risk for adverse events. This drug class reduces withdrawal symptoms. Medications in this category include methadone.

MAT Medications: Partial Agonists

Partial agonists bind to the opioid receptor, and as the name suggest, cause a partial activation. This partial activation characteristic implies that the drug will have a dose ceiling, which distinguishes partial agonists from full agonists, because increasing the dose above the ceiling does not cause further effects.

Partial agonists, like full agonists, have slower onset and longer duration of action, and they lessen withdrawal symptoms. Medications in this category include buprenorphine, which is available as a tablet and film when combined with naloxone (brand name Suboxone and Zubsolv). Buprenorphine is also available in an extended-release injectable formulation (brand name Sublocade), which is administered once every 4 weeks.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

MAT Medications: Antagonists

Antagonists bind to the opioid receptor and prevent opioid receptors from being activated. In doing so, they effectively block the receptors’ ability to have an effect. By occupying the receptor, many users report decreased or absent cravings. 

Because the receptor is occupied and blocked, there is a decreased risk for overdose if the individual experiences a lapse or relapse. Medications in this category include naltrexone, which comes in tablet form (administered daily), and an extended release injectable (brand name Vivitrol), which is longer lasting and administered once every 4 weeks.

Who Benefits from Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Most individuals benefit from long-term MAT, however there are some individuals who can be detoxed over a brief period and then remain abstinent. An individual’s duration of illicit opioid use and history of unsuccessful prior treatments may be an important consideration, as are social, familial, financial, and environmental factors.

It’s also essential to consider an individual’s support system and motivation for continued change, along with the presence of any co-occurring disorders or medical conditions that may contribute to a propensity for lapse, or relapse.

Medication-Assisted Treatment at Gaudenzia

Gaudenzia uses an evidence-based, person-centered treatment approach. By meeting individuals in the stage of change they are in, our team helps clients move through the recovery process safely and effectively. Gaudenzia’s treatment model incorporates some of the industry’s most studied and validated treatment approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI).

We are proud to offer Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) at multiple locations throughout our organization. If you are currently receiving MAT and feel you would benefit from additional treatment, we welcome you at any of our facilities. For those who need a temporary bridge while receiving treatment at our facilities, we can assist with that as well. 

If you wish to continue receiving MAT from the community provider you know and have an established relationship with, we will support you however we can. We have facilities that have established relationships with methadone maintenance programs (OTPs). Depending on the location of your MAT provider, we may be able to provide transportation.

If you or someone you love needs help with substance use and co-occurring disorders, please call our 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357).

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