Nurse helping teen with medication management

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat certain substance use disorders and prevent an opioid overdose. MAT is primarily used for the treatment of addiction to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers. It cannot be used for addiction to stimulants or tranquilizers. 

Because the FDA-approved medications are themselves opioids, MAT is controversial in the addiction treatment community. Many people in recovery do not regard MAT patients as “clean and sober” if they are still taking opioids, even as a prescription. 

However, the medical community is increasingly convinced of the benefits of this treatment method. “When used appropriately, medications used to treat addiction are not addicting, as they do not cause patients to use them compulsively or in an unhealthy way. Rather, these medications support patients in their recovery,” according to a factsheet published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).  

There are three medications currently used to treat opioid use disorder:

  • Methadone—clinic-based opioid agonist that does not block other narcotics while preventing withdrawal while taking it, taken as daily liquid dispensed only in specialty clinics.
  • Naltrexone—office-based non-addictive opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of other narcotics, taken as a daily pill or monthly injection
  • Buprenorphine—office-based opioid agonist/antagonist that blocks other narcotics while reducing withdrawal risk, taken as a daily dissolving tablet, cheek film, or 6-month implant under the skin.