People with addictions to opioids may undergo medication-assisted treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines MAT as a “whole-patient” approach to treating substance use disorder by combining behavioral therapies and counseling with medications.
Treatment is only effective if the patient stays in treatment, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse cites evidence demonstrating that this is more likely if the patient receives medications that reduce the symptoms related to an opioid use disorder. Medication-assisted therapy can involve three such medications: buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone.
Patients must receive buprenorphine for a sufficient amount of time to enjoy the full benefits. Tapering off the drug too early causes it to be less effective. Initial approval of buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder first came in 2002. It is now available either by itself or combined with naloxone, an opioid receptor antagonist also used to reverse the effects of an acute overdose.
Methadone has been part of opioid use disorder treatment since 1947. This makes it the oldest of the drugs involved in medication-assisted treatment. Even without receiving counseling, patients who take methadone are likely to see improved long-term outcomes compared to those who do not.
Naltrexone is available as either an extended-release injection, which lasts for a month, or a pill that a patient takes daily. Of the medications for opioid use disorder, it is the newest of the three. Therefore, more research is necessary to confirm the effectiveness of each formulation. However, it does offer the advantages of not producing withdrawal symptoms or building up a tolerance to the medication in patients who take it.