Is Medication-Assisted Treatment Right for You?

By The Fix staff 04/01/19

Regardless of whether one chooses MAT or an alternative path to recovery, it is important to know the facts of both sides and make an informed decision.

Doctor and patient discussing medication-assisted treatment, holding medication

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a method of treating addiction that utilizes a series of FDA-approved medications in order to either help an individual through the painful stages of withdrawal, or prevent them from experiencing cravings that may lead to a relapse. Frequently the assistance of medication to stave off these cravings is used after someone has gone through a natural or medically induced detox process, and/or an addiction treatment program at a rehab.

MAT is a bit controversial for some people though, as it is sometimes viewed as simply trading one dependency for another. Drugs like methadone are prescribed as a maintenance medication and have to be taken on a continual basis for long periods of time. And in some cases, people who use methadone in order to manage their heroin cravings get addicted to methadone as well.

Other methods of MAT, like Probuphine, are administered in implant form into the upper arm so the person receives a steady dose of the drug buprenorphine for up to six months. While this is ultimately convenient for the person given the drug this way, as it eliminates seeing a doctor on a weekly or monthly basis and reduces the risk of misuse, it is also a method that requires continual upkeep.

While MAT is a highly debated topic, showing the benefits and downfalls of both options is a helpful way to make informed decisions. It is important to note that any MAT program should be monitored by a medical professional, and used in conjunction with an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).

Pros and Cons to MAT

According to Providers Clinical Support System (PCSS), which is an informational website that is fully funded by SAMHSA in response to the opioid epidemic, there are many pros when it comes to MAT. The medications used for MAT are safe, improve social functioning, reduce the risk of relapse, reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases, assist in the success of a treatment program, and are cost effective.

The site also states that in a research study on the increase of heroin-related deaths in Baltimore between 1995 and 2009, the number of people dying from opioid related overdoses dropped by 50 percent due to MAT in conjunction with drug treatment program.

A different article published on the site Psychiatric Times goes a step further by breaking down the specific pros and cons associated with the medications used in MAT for opioids: methadone, buprenorphine and XR-naltrexone.


Methadone, which was invented in 1937 and is probably the most well known medication associated with treating opioid addiction, is easy to use and affordable. It is effective when it comes to lowering the desire to use heroin or other opioids, and has a long history of being successful in pregnant women.

The cons associated with this drug include the initial requirement of daily dosing until the individual is able to taper down and its limited availability in some areas. It also carries a risk of the dependency, and is highly stigmatized.

One of the biggest negatives associated with methadone is the withdrawal process can be much worse than heroin or other opioids. This can result in the person becoming more physically dependant on methadone than they ever were when using heroin or the original drug.


Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, is commonly used in long term opioid replacement therapy similar to methadone. However, it can be taken in several different forms, and is also used for chronic pain sufferers. Suboxone, which contains both buprenorphine and naloxone, is the most often used maintenance medication in treatment settings nowadays. It is also difficult to overdose or abuse Suboxone when used as the primary medication.

People coming off opioids can receive this medication by monthly injection, a skin patch, implant under the skin, or dissolving strip under the tongue. There is minimal risk of overdosing while on this medication. It also has better results with babies who were born dependent on opioids, and has less of a negative stigma.

On the other hand, this medication cannot be taken until the individual is actually in the process of withdrawal, which is accompanied by a fair amount of general discomfort. People who have a history of seizures may be at risk of experiencing more seizures while using this medication, and other side effects can include trouble breathing, low blood pressure and allergic reactions. Buprenorphine is also not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.


Finally naltrexone, which is sometimes referred to as Vivitrol, is used for alcohol and opioid addiction management. It works by reducing cravings for both alcohol and opioids. According to recent data, when individuals are administered naltrexone, their cravings for opioids decline rapidly from baseline. Studies have shown that the use of naltrexone does help with abstinence. The medication can be administered in either pill or injection form. The prescribing information for Vivitrol indicates that some possible side effects associated with its usage for opioid dependent individuals are hepatic enzyme abnormalities, injection site pain, nasopharyngitis, insomnia and toothache.

A Personal Choice

So what is the alternative? Going cold turkey is certainly an option, though this can be risky considering the rate of relapse and the sheer discomfort of the withdrawal process. There are also counseling options, and support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Peer support meetings can help nudge the person in the right direction and focus their efforts on getting healthy with the guidance of their peers.

Regardless of the path that one chooses to travel, it is important to know the facts of both sides and make an informed decision. Oceanside Malibu, a luxury treatment facility located beachside in Malibu, offers both options. For those who desire to go down the MAT path, they are able to facilitate the safest and most comfortable methods of treatment. They are also equipped to give the best care and support possible to clients who prefer to go a different route.

Oceanside offers programming that is entirely individualized, which is why they are able to offer both MAT and alternative methods of treatment. Addiction specialists give their clients the rundown on every option available. They are dedicated to offering every angle of care. Above all, clients are provided a safe and comfortable experience that’s managed by a team of caring clinicians.

Reach Oceanside Malibu by phone at (866) 738-6550. Find Oceanside Malibu on Facebook.

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