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Medication Assisted Treatment
(Adapted from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a service of the
U. S. government, publication Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction – Facts for Families
and Friends).
Chronic diseases like severe alcohol addiction or opioid addiction may require a three pronged
Medication Assisted Treatment
Support from family and friends.
Medication-assisted treatment is treatment for addiction that includes the use of medication along with
counseling and other support. Treatment that includes medication is often the best choice for opioid
If a person is addicted, medication allows him or her to regain a normal state of mind, free of drug-induced
highs and lows. It frees the person from thinking all the time about the drug. It can reduce problems of
withdrawal and craving. These changes can give the person the chance to focus on the lifestyle changes
that lead back to healthy living. Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication to control
heart disease or diabetes. It is NOT the same as substituting one addictive drug for another. Used properly,
the medication does NOT create a new addiction. It helps people manage their addiction so that the
benefits of recovery can be maintained. There are three main choices for medication. The most common
medications used in treatment of opioid addiction are methadone and buprenorphine, marketed under
the brand name Suboxone. Sometimes another medication, called naltrexone, is used. Cost varies for the
different medications. This may need to be taken into account when considering treatment options.
Methadone and buprenorphine trick the brain into thinking it is still getting the problem opioid. The
person taking the medication feels normal, not high, and withdrawal does not occur. Methadone and
buprenorphine also reduce cravings. Naltrexone helps overcome addiction in a different way. It blocks the
effect of opioid drugs. This takes away the feeling of getting high if the problem drug is used again. This
feature makes naltrexone a good choice to prevent relapse (falling back into problem drug use).
Naltrexone is also used to treat alcohol addiction. Naltrexone may be marketed under the brand name
“Vivitrol”. All of these medications have the same positive effect: they reduce problem addiction behavior.
All three medications come in pill form. Methadone also comes as a liquid and a wafer. Methadone is
taken daily. The other two medications are taken daily at first. After time, buprenorphine is taken daily or
every other day, and doses of naltrexone are taken up to 3 days apart. Methadone to treat addiction is
dispensed only at specially licensed treatment centers. Buprenorphine and naltrexone are dispensed at
treatment centers or prescribed by doctors. A doctor must have special approval to prescribe
buprenorphine. Some people go to the treatment center or doctor’s office every time they need to take
their medication. People who are stable in recovery may be prescribed a supply of medication to take at
Before medication is prescribed, the client undergoes an interview by a physician or substance abuse
counselor and a physical examination by the physician to ensure the client is appropriate for medication
and to identify the best prescription to meet the client’s needs. Throughout the course of treatment, the
physician and the substance abuse counselor are involved with the client as members of the client’s care
team, which may also include a Registered Nurse and a case manager. Clients may remain on medication
for months or years. If a client wants to stop taking medication, the dose must be gradually tapered under
a physician’s supervision to prevent unwanted side effects.
Medication alone can’t guarantee a client’s recovery. Counseling and support from family and friends are
also essential. Family counseling or family support groups may help those involved in a client’s recovery
to achieve a greater understanding of the disease of addiction and how medication assisted treatment,
counseling and support are beneficial for recovery.