This treatment option has been proven to be incredibly effective in preventing overdoses. It is covered by insurance, well-researched and tested, and is actually available at most outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment programs.
So what is this treatment option and why isn’t it being offered?
It’s medication assisted treatment for opioid and alcohol abuse (MAT). And though I don’t have hard data on why it isn’t being offered as much as it should be, my guess is simply that most of the time, clinics haven’t figured out the metrics of offering this potentially life-saving treatment.
This is a tremendous tragedy.
When a client who uses opioids or alcohol comes into the behavioral health programs I direct, they are always encouraged by staff to see the psychiatrist to discuss medication assisted therapy. In fact, they are encouraged to see the doctor that same day if possible. Why do I insist on this?
Because, in my experience of providing medication assisted therapy over a period of a few years, I see clearly that a far greater percentage of patients are able to abstain from drugs and alcohol if they get medication (along with other behavioral health therapies.) They also recover more quickly–there is less treatment time. I don’t believe anyone wants to spend even one day more in treatment than necessary. I want patients to start their recovery from addiction the moment they walk through the programs’ doors.
This is not only good for patients, but in all honesty, good for treatment programs too. The more clients that recover faster, don’t relapse, and feel good about their treatment-experience, the better it is for the program. Yes, this is a less expensive option for clients, but addiction treatment programs are first and foremost in the business of helping people get better.
Of course whether or not to use medication is ultimately the client’s choice. But if they do choose medication assisted treatment, cravings will be reduced or even eliminated. This allows them to work on a variety of other important issues more quickly and effectively, issues such as coping skills, anger management, general relapse prevention skills, and so on.
The medications our psychiatrist usually prescribes are Suboxone (for opioid addiction) and Vivitrol (for opioid or alcohol addiction.) Using these anti-craving medications doesn’t preclude the need for therapy, including a range of therapies which help the patient cope with life without relying on anti-craving medication or opioids or alcohol.
Even holistically inclined treatment programs that offer nutritional and mind-body approaches would see their clients benefit from anti-craving medications. Fortunately, side effects or reactions are rare and I became a believer in offering these medications when I saw my clients’ lives improve dramatically.
We’ll talk more about addiction treatment in upcoming posts.