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Do medications really work for opioid addiction?

Do medications really work for opioid addiction?

By Dr. Jessica Badichek, PharmD

There are many treatments for opioid addiction. Some treatments may involve counseling and attendance at 12-Step meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous and others may involve a combination of counseling or behavioral therapy with FDA-approved medications such as buprenorphine, naltrexone or methadone. This combination is known as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Using medications to help overcome addiction has several misconceptions that have limited access to treatment and caused distrust in whether or not medications can work for opioid addiction.

A common misconception associated with MAT medications such as methadone or buprenorphine is that one drug substitutes for another. Methadone and buprenorphine don’t work the same in a patient addicted to opioids as they would with a patient who has never taken opioids before. Patients that are addicted to opioids don’t experience the same type of euphoric effects that they would have if they took the opioid drug of abuse. Instead, methadone or buprenorphine relieve unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and cravings that cause chemical imbalances in the body. Additionally, MAT programs provide safe and controlled doses of medications that are prescribed by doctors, nurse practitioners or physician assistants. At proper doses, MAT medications have been shown to have no adverse effects on mental capability, physical functioning or employability.

So, how do we know that medications used in MAT work? Evidence shows that methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone all reduce illicit opioid use, and reduce the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C.

Research has also shown that combining counseling along with medication treatment can successfully treat substance abuse disorders and sustain recovery. MAT is more comprehensive and individually tailored to meet patient needs. MAT has also been shown to decrease detoxification services that all too often don’t work and lead to poor outcomes and relapse.

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) MAT has been shown to:

  • Improve patient survival or decrease drug-related deaths
  • Increase retention in treatment
  • Decrease illicit opiate use that can lead to other criminal activities and drug-related death
  • Increase patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment
  • Improve birth outcomes among pregnant women with substance abuse disorders
  • Reduce patient risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C

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About the Author:
Dr. Jessica Badichek is the Director of Clinical Operations at CompreCareRx. With extensive knowledge of psychiatric therapeutics, substance use disorder therapies and pharmaceutical compounding, she is dedicated to providing optimal clinical care policies that focus on the needs of every individual patient. She has a passion for caring for those suffering from addiction and seeks to provide superior clinical care. She holds a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and is a registered pharmacist.