Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Just as a nicotine patch is an effective solution to slowly and safely reduce dependency on the addictive chemicals in cigarettes, there are a number of FDA-approved medical therapies available to reduce–and eliminate–chemical dependency on opioids. Medications such as Methadone, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone work to normalize brain chemistry by reducing psychological cravings, reducing withdrawal symptoms, and by blocking the euphoric effects of illicit opioid use. MAT allows patients to stabilize their lives, enabling them to return to work, school, their families and communities.

Types of Medications*

  • Methadone - prevents opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings by activating the opioid receptors in the brain.
  • Buprenorphine - reduces or eliminates opioid withdrawal symptoms, including drug cravings, without producing the euphoria or dangerous side effects of heroin and other opioids. 
  • Naltrexone - approved for the prevention of relapse in adult patients following complete detoxification from opioids. It acts by blocking the brain’s opioid receptors, preventing opioid drugs from acting on them and thus blocking the euphoria the user would normally feel and/or causing withdrawal if recent opioid use has occurred. 
  • Naloxone - used to prevent opioid overdose deaths by binding to the opioid receptors and can rapidly reverse or block the effects of opioids. 

Myth – MAT substitutes one substance for another
Fact – Therapies such as Methadone, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone are medications that treat the symptoms (such as cravings and withdrawal) of substance use disorder. When prescribed in a controlled setting, methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone do not produce the euphoric high associated with illicit opioid use. MAT can not be equated to, nor conflated with, illicit drug use.

Myth - You can not be in "recovery" while receiving MAT
Fact - Recovery is the abstinence from illicit drug use–that is using drugs to get high or using to prevent withdrawal. SAMHSA has defined recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. As long as you are working towards this goal, you are considered "in recovery" regardless of the medications you take. A number of national and international organizations consider individuals to be in recovery while on MAT as prescribed. Those organizations include: The American Medical Association, The American Society of Addiction Medicine, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, The Office of the Surgeon General, SAMHSA, and The World Health Organization.

Myth - You become "addicted" to methadone
Fact - The distinction between "addicted" and "dependent" is important. You would never say that someone suffering from diabetes is "addicted" insulin, the life-sustaining medication that treats that chronic illness. Likewise, individuals receiving methadone (or other medications that treat substance use disorder) are physically dependent on, but not addicted to, their medication. Addiction (or substance use disorder) is characterized by both medical and behavioral symptoms. MAT is used to treat the medical symptoms of substance use disorder (cravings or withdrawal), while counseling is used to treat the behavioral (engaging in risky behavior, lying to loved ones, cycles of relapse and remission, or loss of control).

For more myths and facts about medication-assisted treatment visit the Missouri Department of Mental Health (PDF) or the Legal Action Center (PDF).

Additional information about MAT, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has published a comprehensive report outlining the benefits and outcomes of MAT. Additional information can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

*Information regarding medication types is from an inter-agency governmental bulletin found here.