The Conversation About Medication Assisted Treatment Must Change

By The Fix staff 01/02/18

Each and every person has their own bottom and their own story. So shouldn’t everyone have their own way of gaining sobriety?

woman holding pill and glass of water
MAT has been shown to prevent relapse and death yet it is stigmatized by many traditional abstinence-based 12-step programs.

What Is MAT?

MAT is an acronym for medication assisted treatment. MAT programming is a common form of treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. It is uncommon to not offer some variation of medication assisted treatment if you have a quality addiction treatment program. There are various versions of MAT, but all include prescription medication to assist with a customized treatment plan. However, there are still a number of people who are anti-MAT in the recovery and addiction treatment industry. Those who support abstinence and traditional 12-step methodology are highly opinionated and frequently express their disapproval of medication assisted treatment programs. It’s time for the conversation around MAT to change. We are in the midst of an epidemic of heroin and prescription pain medication overdoses and medication assisted therapy has been proven to significantly reduce relapse rates; at the end of the day our main concern should be saving lives.

What Is the Issue?

There is a certain taboo that surrounds MAT programming for those who work a 12-step abstinence recovery program. A large addiction treatment hub for alcohol and drug abuse is located in South Florida. The concept of medication assisted treatment, specifically in this geographical area, is highly stigmatized. The overall opinion is anti-MAT and anti-treatment centers/rehabs that offer any kind of maintenance programs.

The stigma around MAT shouldn’t exist among 12-step groups: the traditional 12-step program states that no fellow AA, NA member should be giving medical advice to fellow AA, NA member. Every single individual has their own path in recovery and their own journey to conquer; people who are heavily involved in “the rooms” should understand that without judgement. Again, the main concern should be saving lives. Instead, the opinions of fellow AA, NA members are alienating many of those who are in a MAT program. The stigma is so strong that it is at the point where many who participate in medication assisted treatment hide that fact in order to be accepted in the recovery community.

The addiction treatment industry (specifically the South Florida hub) is filled with people who are in 12-step recovery, so the line is often blurred when it comes to personal opinions and proper treatment methodology. What happened to the days that we were all working in this industry to save lives? The general population of the recovery community down in South Florida does not understand the basic concepts that go into a MAT program-- as soon as medication is spoken about it is automatically assumed it is only a maintenance program, and MAT is so much more than just maintenance. The main point here is that not everyone finds recovery in the same 12-step model and for those who don’t, other treatment options must be explored.

Today, there are a number of insurance companies that will not approve treatment days for an individual who has been labeled a “chronic relapser” if the treatment facility does not offer a MAT program. For opioid dependency, the relapse rate tops 80%; that is an extremely high rate of continued drug use after successfully completing a drug addiction treatment plan. The disease catches hold of some people and the temptation after treatment is too great, and this is when relapse occurs. In the recovery scene, it is a common belief that one will seek help when they are ready to actually stop using and that every addict has their own time.

MAT programming is a great option to have for certain individuals who have been previously labeled “chronic relapsers.” Medication maintenance programs cut the urges, cravings and reduce relapse rates up to 62%. A quality treatment center will have a individualized MAT plan based on each client and their specific needs.

For every chronic, major, life-threatening disease there are a number of different care plans or modalities that are used; for addiction treatment this should be the same concept. The facts remain: MAT programming significantly reduces the overdose rate of opioids, it reduces the relapse rate overall, and it is saving lives.

So regardless of how people feel who are working abstinence-based free 12-step programs, the ultimate goal should always be the prevention of accidental deaths due to opioid abuse. The attitude within the rooms is quite off-putting; the judgemental opinions about MAT programming and the online trolling and slander that happens from those in recovery towards MAT facilities is astounding. Facilities that have various drug addiction resources should not be crucified or cyber-bullied by the local recovery community for having multiple treatment program options. Each and every client regardless of where they are attending treatment should have a customized treatment care plan that was created specifically for them. If certain clients are deemed suitable for MAT programming then no one without a medical license should have an opinion because it is none of their business.

Especially with the rule in AA and NA of never giving medical advice to a fellow member, it is sad to see just how judgemental the recovery community (and in turn addiction treatment industry) in South Florida has become. Has everyone lost their way and become so detached from the person they were before they found recovery? Each and every person has their own bottom and their own story. So shouldn’t everyone have their own way of gaining sobriety?

Why Is MAT More Common in the National Addiction Treatment Industry Than in South Florida?

The South Florida recovery and addiction treatment communities are very intertwined. Most of the people who work in the addiction treatment industry down in Florida are personally in recovery themselves. In most other places in the U.S., the industry is made up of professionals who are not personally involved in recovery. So the conversation is not as concerned with the 12 steps and traditions, instead focusing on providing more treatment options to clients who are addicted to opioids and who might be chronic relapsers.

What Makes Daylight Detox and Recovery Center’s MAT Successful?

When we are talking about our specific MAT clientele here at Daylight Detox and Recovery Center, these are not your typical first-time-at-rehab clients. Most of our clients have been through the “Florida Shuffle,” in and out of inpatient treatment and IOPs; they’re constantly leaving against medical advice before they have successfully completed a program. That is, until they get to Daylight Detox and Recovery Center. We will take the clients who are blacklisted from other treatment centers, the clients who are deemed “unfixable” and we turn them around. We have seen many successful recoveries.

Another assumption is that we only do MAT, or that we want all our clients to stay on a maintenance program after completing their drug and alcohol treatment, but this is not the case. Typically with most MAT plans at Daylight, when a client is close to completing treatment and leaving our facility we will do a long taper off whatever medication they have been receiving throughout their stay. We always advise they taper off before leaving, but if the client requires prolonged MAT, then we will make sure they are connected with a MAT doctor or outpatient medication assisted therapy program in the area they will be returning to post-treatment. We do not just suggest a maintenance program, instead we make sure the client knows how important the aspect of therapy is with the medication.

We admit clients who haven’t completed more than two or three days at any other treatment center and then they stay in our inpatient program for 30+ days; statistics like these are unheard of in our industry. We see success by having small caseloads for our therapists, intimate group settings, and the one-on-one therapy that is so desperately needed with any MAT program. In addition to specializing in MAT, we also offer co-occurring disorder treatment, and work with couples.

We are proud to stand behind our MAT programming here at Daylight Detox and Recovery, and if you would ever like to learn more or speak with our therapists, we offer tours daily. Call us any time, and see the light at the end of the tunnel: (800) 518-5205.

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