New 12-Step Group Embraces Medication-Assisted Recovery

By Paul Fuhr 04/24/18

“Why should I feel ashamed for doing something that’s saved my life? I was putting a needle in my arm every 10 minutes—methadone saved my life.” 

a group of people in a support group meeting

As the opioid epidemic grows, more people are turning to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorders, and now there’s a new 12-step group on the rise to give them support: Medication-Assisted Recovery Anonymous (MARA).

Slate reports that unlike abstinence-based Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs, MARA embraces addiction medications like methadone and Suboxone—a stance that gets frowned upon by some as much as it gets applause from others.

“AA and NA consider medication an ‘outside issue,’ at the local group level, it is subtly, and sometimes explicitly, discouraged,” Slate observed. 

MARA meetings are growing in popularity, though, with many experts claiming that medication-assisted recovery is the best possible treatment method for opioid use disorder.

The medical community, however, repeatedly finds itself hitting a wall with traditional 12-step programs, which sometimes require people to be completely abstinent in order to share.

NA literature refers to medication-assisted treatment as “drug replacement.” Former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, put it another way: “If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much.”

As a result, medication-assisted treatment isn’t just a stigma that NA members must overcome—it’s a solution that, when ignored, actually makes the opioid epidemic worse.

Research undeniably proves that drugs like buprenorphine, which binds to the same brain receptors that opioids do, truly help individuals with addiction.

In fact, studies have “repeatedly shown that these medications reduce opioid addiction­–related deaths by 50% or more, increase treatment retention, and decrease infectious disease transmission and criminal activity,” Slate reported.

Dr. Sarah Wakeman, the medical director of the Substance Use Disorder Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Slate that the gap between the recovery and medical communities comes from confusion between addiction and physiological dependence. (The latter causes withdrawals and sickness, while the former is a compulsive use of substances despite the consequences.)

People who use the medications properly, Wakeman maintained, can thrive in recovery and shouldn’t feel ostracized.

“I think it’s heartbreaking because if a person had cancer or had any other chronic illness and they were valiantly managing it, people in their lives would be supporting them and encouraging them to take their medication every day to stay healthy,” she said. “The need to keep [medication] a secret or feel like it’s something shameful when people are doing really well on treatment is challenging and can really undermine someone’s recovery.”

Slate interviewed a woman who put a finer point on the chasm between 12-step recovery and medical research: “Why should I feel ashamed for doing something that’s saved my life?” the woman asked. “I was putting a needle in my arm every 10 minutes—methadone saved my life.” 

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.