The use of medication along with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorder and prevent opioid overdose is referred to as medication-assisted treatment (or MAT).
MAT brings a “whole-patient” approach to treatment, and research has shown that it can be effective. This approach has been shown to:
- Improve patient survival
- Increase retention in treatment
- Decrease illicit opiate use and other criminal activity among people with substance use disorders
- Increase patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment
- Improve birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant
Medication FDA approved for use during MAT include:
Methadone – this prescription is offered in pill, liquid and wafer forms and usually taken once a day. According to SAMHSA, it is used to combat opioid use disorder and for pain management. It "reduces opioid craving and withdrawal and blunts or blocks the effects of opioids."
Buprenorphine – as an opioid partial agonist, this drug produces the same euphoric effects as opioids but is weaker than heroin and methadone. Buprenorphine can "diminish the effects of physical dependency to opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings," "increase safety in cases of overdose," and "lower the potential for misuse."
Naltrexone – this drug works differently than methadone and buprenorphine because it blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and reduces cravings. If a person relapses, naltrexone stops him or her from getting high. However, "patients on naltrexone, who discontinue use or relapse after a period of abstinence, may have a reduced tolerance to opioids. Therefore, taking the same, or even lower doses of opioids used in the past can cause life-threatening consequences."
Learn more about MAT on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.
How Do Medications Treat Opioid Addiction (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)