Medication Assisted Treatment: Solution or Support?

Discover effective strategies for managing pain while facing addiction. Explore the challenges, treatment approaches, and ethical considerations.

Leora BH Staff
May 15, 2024

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is an approach that combines the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to address substance use disorders, particularly opioid use disorders (OUD). MAT offers an effective and evidence-based strategy to help individuals sustain recovery.

Understanding MAT

MAT involves the use of FDA-approved medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. These medications target the brain's receptors affected by drugs, helping to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and normalize brain function. By addressing the physiological aspects of addiction, MAT provides individuals with a foundation for recovery.

MAT programs are typically tailored to individual needs and may include psychosocial support components like counseling and therapy. These components address the multifaceted nature of addiction by focusing on psychological and social factors contributing to substance use disorders. The integration of medications and counseling in MAT has been shown to improve treatment outcomes and reduce the risk of relapse.

Importance of MAT

MAT plays a vital role in the treatment of substance use disorders, providing individuals with a comprehensive and holistic approach to recovery. Here are some key reasons why MAT is important:

  1. Enhanced Treatment Retention: MAT has been shown to increase treatment retention rates, ensuring that individuals stay engaged in their recovery process.
  2. Reduced Illicit Drug Use: By addressing withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings, MAT helps to reduce the illicit use of opioids or alcohol, reducing the risk of relapse.
  3. Improved Overall Outcomes: MAT, when combined with counseling and behavioral therapies, has been associated with improved overall treatment outcomes, including decreased mortality rates, reduced risk of infectious diseases, improved social functioning, and increased employment rates [1].
  4. Reduced Stigma: By recognizing addiction as a chronic disease and providing evidence-based treatment, MAT helps to reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorders and the medications used for treatment.

In conclusion, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a valuable approach in the management of substance use disorders, particularly opioid use disorders. By combining medications with counseling and behavioral therapies, MAT offers individuals a comprehensive treatment option that can improve outcomes, reduce the risk of relapse, and help individuals sustain long-term recovery.

Medications for Substance Use Disorders

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an evidence-based approach that combines medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to effectively treat substance use disorders. Medications play a crucial role in relieving withdrawal symptoms, reducing cravings, and helping individuals sustain recovery [3]. Let's explore the medications commonly used in MAT for alcohol use disorders (AUD) and opioid use disorders (OUD).

Medications for Alcohol Use Disorders

The FDA has approved several medications to treat alcohol use disorders. These medications work by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, helping to restore chemical imbalances in the body that occur due to excessive alcohol consumption. They can be a valuable resource for individuals seeking recovery from alcohol addiction.

Medications for Opioid Use Disorders

For individuals struggling with opioid use disorders, there are three commonly used medications in MAT: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone [3]. Each of these medications targets the brain's receptors affected by opioids, with unique effects that help individuals overcome addiction.

  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a medication that alleviates withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings. It operates by binding to the same receptors in the brain as opioids, but with a lower risk of misuse and dependence. FDA-approved buprenorphine products include Suboxone, Subutex, Bunavail, Zubsolv, Probuphine, Brixadi, Cassipa, and Sublocade, providing a range of options for treatment [1].
  • Methadone: Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that helps to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. It is typically administered under strict supervision in specialized treatment settings. Methadone maintenance treatment has been shown to be effective in reducing illicit opioid use and improving overall quality of life for individuals with OUD.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is a medication that blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and reduces cravings. It can be administered orally or through a monthly injection (Vivitrol). Naltrexone is an effective option for individuals who have already gone through detoxification and are motivated to maintain abstinence from opioids.

These medications, when used in conjunction with counseling and psychosocial support, offer individuals a comprehensive approach to overcoming opioid addiction and achieving long-term recovery. The choice of medication depends on individual needs and should be determined in consultation with a healthcare professional.

In conclusion, medication-assisted treatment with appropriate medications is a valuable tool in the treatment of substance use disorders. Medications for alcohol use disorders and opioid use disorders can significantly improve outcomes and help individuals on their path to recovery. When combined with counseling and psychosocial support, these medications provide a comprehensive approach to addressing the complexities of addiction and supporting individuals in their journey towards a healthier, substance-free life.

Commonly Used Medications in MAT

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) utilizes medications in combination with counseling and psychosocial support to help individuals overcome substance use disorders. When it comes to treating opioid use disorders (OUD) and alcohol use disorders (AUD), several medications have been approved and proven effective. The most commonly used medications in MAT include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.


Buprenorphine is a medication that has shown significant efficacy in harm reduction and relapse prevention for opioid addiction. It is currently considered the second most effective medication in MAT for opioid addiction, according to a study in the Journal of Addictions Nursing [4]. Buprenorphine works by reducing cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and stress reactivity. It also competitively blocks or reduces the reinforcing effects of other opioids. Importantly, patients do not develop tolerance to the relapse prevention efficacy of buprenorphine.


Methadone is considered the gold standard medication in MAT for opioid addiction. It has been widely used for many years and has demonstrated effectiveness in increasing retention rates and harm reduction. Methadone can be initiated at any stage of opioid abuse, but the process of titrating to an effective dose is lengthy. It must be administered at a specialty clinic, making it less accessible compared to other medications. Methadone treatment has shown the greatest results in retention rates.


Naltrexone is another medication commonly used in MAT for opioid use disorder. In oral form, it has not been shown to be effective due to low adherence. However, the extended-release intramuscular injection form of naltrexone has been proven to reduce relapse and increase the quality of life. To initiate treatment with naltrexone, individuals must be opioid-free for 7-14 days. Naltrexone works by blocking the effects of opioids and reducing cravings associated with opioid use disorder.

These medications, buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, play a crucial role in MAT by helping to normalize brain chemistry, relieving physiological cravings, and reducing the negative effects of the substances used. Each medication has its own unique mechanisms and benefits in treating substance use disorders. It's important to note that medications for MAT should always be used in conjunction with counseling and psychosocial support for optimal outcomes.

Implementation of MAT in Primary Care

As the opioid epidemic continues to be a national concern, the implementation of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in primary care settings has emerged as a potential solution. MAT, particularly for opioid use disorder, is being offered in some primary care offices to increase access to treatment, reduce costs, and foster a therapeutic relationship between clinicians and patients [5].

Advantages of Primary Care MAT

The provision of MAT in primary care settings offers several advantages. By integrating MAT into primary care, individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) can access treatment within their local communities, which eliminates the need for them to travel to specialized treatment centers. This increased accessibility can help reduce barriers to treatment and improve overall treatment outcomes.

Furthermore, the availability of MAT in primary care offices allows for the establishment of a strong and ongoing therapeutic relationship between clinicians and patients. Primary care clinicians often have an existing rapport with their patients, which can contribute to a sense of trust and comfort during the treatment process. This enhanced relationship can positively impact patient engagement and adherence to the treatment plan.

In addition, providing MAT in primary care can help reduce the stigma associated with SUD. By integrating substance use treatment into routine primary care visits, patients may feel more supported and less judged, leading to increased treatment-seeking behavior and improved overall well-being.

Challenges of Primary Care MAT

While primary care MAT offers numerous advantages, it also presents certain challenges. Primary care clinicians who provide MAT beyond naltrexone must obtain a Drug Addiction Treatment Act 2000 waiver. This waiver requires clinicians to complete necessary educational programs and places limitations on the number of clients they can treat. This requirement is in place to ensure that clinicians have the appropriate training and resources to provide comprehensive care for individuals with SUD.

A potential disadvantage of providing MAT in primary care settings is the potential disruption of continuity of care in terms of psychotherapy treatment. Federal law mandates that therapy must be available for individuals receiving MAT. If primary care clinicians are unable to offer psychotherapy services, they must refer patients with SUD to external therapy providers. Establishing effective follow-up communication between the primary care clinician and the therapy provider is essential to ensure the success of SUD treatment and maintain continuity of care.

By overcoming these challenges and implementing proper systems of communication and coordination, primary care MAT can effectively address the opioid epidemic, increase access to treatment, and improve overall outcomes for individuals with SUD. The integration of MAT into primary care settings has the potential to provide comprehensive and holistic care to individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorders.

Considerations for Providing MAT

When providing Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for substance use disorders, there are several important considerations to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the treatment. Two key considerations are medication safety at home and the need for continuity of care.

Medication Safety at Home

It is essential to prioritize medication safety at home, particularly when medications are allowed to be kept at home. This is particularly relevant for medications like methadone, which is commonly used in MAT for opioid use disorders. Methadone, in its liquid form, is colored and can be mistaken for a fruit juice, making it important to store it in a safe place away from children. Proper storage and adherence to safety guidelines are crucial to prevent accidental ingestion and ensure the well-being of everyone in the household.

Need for Continuity of Care

Continuity of care is an important consideration when providing MAT in primary care settings. While there are advantages to offering MAT in primary care, such as improved access to treatment services and building a strong therapeutic relationship between the clinician and the individual with substance use disorder (PubMed), it is vital to address the potential disruption of continuity of care for psychotherapy treatment.

Federal law mandates that therapy must be available for individuals receiving MAT. If primary care clinicians cannot provide therapy services, they should establish follow-up communication with therapy providers to ensure continuity of care and enhance the success of substance use disorder treatment. This communication strategy allows for a collaborative approach, enabling the therapy provider to address the psychotherapeutic needs of the individual while the primary care clinician focuses on the medication aspect of MAT.

By establishing effective communication channels between clinicians and therapy providers, the treatment team can work together to provide comprehensive care and support for individuals undergoing MAT. This collaboration is crucial in maximizing the effectiveness of substance use disorder treatment and ensuring that individuals receive the necessary psychotherapy treatment alongside medication support.

Considering medication safety at home and the need for continuity of care helps create a safe and supportive environment for individuals receiving MAT. These considerations, along with other factors related to medication management and the overall treatment plan, play a vital role in the success of MAT and contribute to improved outcomes in substance use disorder treatment.

Effectiveness and Impact of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

When it comes to addressing substance use disorders, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) has proven to be an effective approach. MAT combines the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to provide a comprehensive treatment plan. This section will explore the success factors in MAT and how it contributes to addressing the opioid epidemic.

Success Factors in MAT

Abundant evidence shows that medications used in MAT, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, have been successful in reducing opioid use and related symptoms, as well as decreasing the risk of infectious disease transmission and criminal behavior associated with drug use. These medications also increase the likelihood of treatment retention, which is associated with several positive outcomes [6].

Studies have demonstrated the efficacy of methadone in reducing opioid use, the transmission of infectious diseases, and criminal activities. Patients on methadone treatment had 33% fewer opioid-positive drug tests and were 4.44 times more likely to stay in treatment compared to individuals who did not receive medication.

Similarly, buprenorphine has shown promising results in reducing opioid use. A Swedish study found that patients maintained on a daily dose of 16 mg of buprenorphine had a treatment failure rate of 25%, compared to a 100% failure rate in the placebo group. This highlights the importance of providing an adequate dose of buprenorphine for optimal effectiveness [6].

Extended-release injectable naltrexone (XR-NTX) has also shown positive outcomes in promoting opioid abstinence and treatment retention. In a study, the XR-NTX group had 90% confirmed abstinent weeks compared to 35% in the placebo group. Treatment retention was also higher in the XR-NTX group, along with decreased drug craving and relapse rates.

Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

MAT plays a crucial role in addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic. By providing evidence-based medications, MAT helps individuals with opioid use disorders regain control of their lives and break the cycle of addiction. The use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies offers a comprehensive approach to treating substance use disorders.

MAT not only reduces opioid use and associated risks but also has broader societal impacts. It is associated with lower risks of overdose mortality, reduced transmission of HIV and HCV, reduced criminal justice involvement, and increased employment opportunities for individuals in treatment. By addressing the root causes of addiction and providing effective treatment options, MAT plays a crucial role in reducing the overall burden of the opioid epidemic.

In conclusion, MAT has proven to be an effective solution in treating substance use disorders, particularly in the context of opioid addiction. The success factors in MAT, such as the use of evidence-based medications and comprehensive treatment approaches, contribute to positive outcomes in reducing opioid use, promoting treatment retention, and addressing the broader impacts of the opioid epidemic. MAT provides a pathway to recovery and offers hope for individuals struggling with substance use disorders.


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