Amidst a nationwide rise in opiate addictions, some organizations are seeing positive results from medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options. Despite its effectiveness, however, social stigma persists, and MAT options remain few.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
The ultimate goal of MAT is full recovery from addiction. This type of addiction treatment combines behavioral therapy and counseling with physician-supervised use of the medications methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone. The medications used in MAT are FDA-approved, intended to help relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings from opiates like heroin and oxycodone.
Research indicates that MAT drugs, at the correct dosage, do not impair mental or physical functioning. Recent studies also show that MAT can lead to higher quality of life compared to standard treatment options, and help reduce treatment costs.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one study in Baltimore from 1995-2009 found that increased availability of methadone and buprenorphine was associated with a nearly 50% decline in fatal heroin overdoses.
Controversy Surrounding Medication-Assisted Treatment
Despite the evidence for its effectiveness, MAT remains controversial. The use of methadone, especially, carries a stigma that prevents wider public acceptance. Currently, only two companies provide methadone for MAT in Idaho: Center for Behavioral Health Idaho and Raise the Bottom Addiction Treatment Center.
Because methadone itself is an opioid, there is a misconception that MAT merely trades one addiction for another. Supporters argue, however, that this is not the case. Controlled doses of methadone can help stabilize addiction symptoms and allow users to function normally.
The FDA requires MAT to include behavioral therapy and counseling, in part to limit the risks of re-addiction. While a person with an opiate addiction can become dependent on the drugs used in MAT, supporters and providers point out that this is no different from a patient with diabetes being dependent on insulin to function normally.
Medication-Assisted Treatment in Idaho
Idaho’s geography makes addiction recovery more complicated, especially in remote areas. MAT options are currently confined to urban areas, with fewer options available to rural residents. Patients who must travel several hours for addiction treatment are less likely to recover successfully.
In 2014, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare launched Recovery Idaho, a community organization intended to expand recovery support services throughout the state. The state also recently launched Idaho’s Response to the Opioid Crisis. This program includes a number of treatment options, including MAT, for people who meet certain eligibility requirements.
The U.S. House of Representatives on May 22, 2018, passed H.R. 5682, also known as the “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (FIRST STEP) Act.” This bill aims to help reduce risks associated with the release of prison inmates, including drug use. If signed into law, several agency directors would be required to submit assessments of the use of MAT for recently released prisoners who struggle with opiate addiction.
MAT continues to be a controversial option for addiction treatment, despite its effectiveness. Increased community support, as well as expanded availability, may help more individuals gain access to MAT and its benefits.