First, I am not a doctor, or a trained counselor, or an addiction treatment professional of any kind. I am not even an addict. I am simply a Mother. I have two beautiful sons, and my oldest, now 25 years old, is a recovering addict who thankfully has been drug free for almost four years.
He asked me to write about Medication Assisted Treatment, which is hard. I don’t have the professional background to give you an educated medical or scientific discussion. So, I am not going to cite research or statistics, or advocate for one side or another on this very difficult and emotion-filled issue.
Instead, I am simply going to provide a basic outline of the arguments on both sides, and a few thoughts, based only on my limited experience.
What Is Medication Assisted Treatment?
Medication Assisted Treatment for addicts, sometimes called MAT, consists of several different medications, the most common of which (for opioid use) are Suboxone and Methadone.
These are often administered to the addict for a period of days during the detox period to allow the addict to safely withdraw from opioids. However many addicts continue to use these medications on a much longer-term basis, and some addicts never are able to stop using them completely.
The Pros of MAT
The pros: MAT allows the addict to regain a more balanced state of mind, relatively free of the drug-related highs and lows, and helps the person to focus on recovery. In the short term it helps the addict to navigate the medical detox process safely.
In addition, in concert with traditional treatment methods, including:
- 12-step programs
- Lifestyle changes, etc.
MAT can improve the chances of long-term success, particularly in addicts who have repeatedly relapsed.
The Cons of MAT
The cons: MAT has many potential side effects, including anxiety, stomach issues, and sleep disorders. Much more serious, overdose is possible, particularly with methadone, but also on other forms of MAT. Addicts who decide to abuse opioids, or other drugs or alcohol while on MAT can overdose and die, and sadly many have done so.
Addicts also sometimes sell their MAT medications to buy illegal drugs. Also, MAT can become a long-term treatment, or sometimes a permanent need. Some addicts cannot successfully taper from MAT use, and so never stop using the MAT medications.
Critics of MAT argue that it is simply a substitution of one addictive substance for another, and therefore antithetical to the very idea of true recovery. Lastly, MAT is unlikely to work unless used in conjunction with the traditional treatment methods described above.
MAT Isn’t a One-Size-Fits-All Answer
So as a parent, my take is this: there does not seem to be a one-size-fits-all answer here. My son was given the above-mentioned MAT medication Suboxone, along with Ativan, Flexeril and Robaxin, for a matter of days, and only during his detox periods.
After that he spent time, without MAT, in inpatient rehabs, IOPs, and sober living facilities. His recovery has been far from a smooth ride, but he has been successfully clean for almost four years now, and God willing, will continue to remain drug free.
Start Without MAT, and then See What Happens
I am deeply grateful that he does not have to deal with the continued use of, or attempts to taper off from, any MAT medications, and it seems to me that long-term recovery without MAT is the best place to start.
Recovery is enough of a challenge without long-term use of MAT medications. However, for those addicts who have repeatedly relapsed, despite efforts at MAT-free recovery, MAT appears to be a better, sounder and safer option than the frightening alternatives of repeated relapse and addiction to illegal drugs.
A Good Addiction Treatment Team Matters
If my son had suffered numerous relapses, I would hope he would be open to some form of extended MAT treatment, and we would try hard to find a well-trained, reputable addiction treatment team to guide him during the long-term MAT recovery process.
Open Discussion Is Key to Progression
We are all in this together, and we need to encourage and support one another in fighting the horrific disease of addiction. It is critical that we continue to discuss MAT and the many other difficult and controversial addiction-related issues.
Naturally we sometimes will disagree. But lets keep in mind that our ultimate goal is the same for all concerned – long-term, successful treatment and recovery for people who suffer from addiction, and for their family members.
Best wishes to you all,