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Medication MATters in Opioid Addiction Treatment

Amanda Stevenson-Grund - Friday, April 08, 2016

Pharmacotherapies for opioid addiction, used in concert with behavioral therapies and other recovery support services (commonly referred to as ‘Medication-Assisted Treatment’ or ‘MAT’, have been shown to be highly effective in the treatment of opioid addiction.
American Society of Addiction Medicine. Advancing Access to Addiction Medications: 11

A collection of pills with a stop sign on top represents the treatment of opioid addiction.

The stereotypical addiction recovery involves a circle of current and former addicts talking about their lives. However, this is only one part of addiction, particularly when it comes to opioid addiction. Opioid addiction treatment includes not only behavioral therapy and support groups, but also additional medication. This combination is known as Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT). At least as important as the support groups, though not as well known to the general public, are the medications. Methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone all treat opioid addiction, and naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose.

Of the three approved opioid addiction treatments, methadone is one of the most commonly used and also one of the most controversial. Methadone is, itself, a synthetic opioid. Only specially licensed clinics can dispense the drug, which comes as a tablet, liquid or wafer. Patients can step down methadone to wean off the drug or can take it as a maintenance therapy. According to a 2004 article from Harvard Medical School, of patients who take methadone, about a quarter become abstinent, about a quarter stay on methadone and about half repeatedly go on and off methadone treatment.

Buprenorphine is a mu-opioid partial agonist, but unlike methadone, buprenorphine is less likely to cause adverse effects and overdoses, so certified physicians can prescribe the drug from the physician’s office. Naltrexone works differently. As an agonist, naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids. It comes in oral and extended-release, injectable formulations. The injectable form can last for weeks, which aids patient compliance.

Naloxone doesn’t treat opioid addiction. Instead, it treats opioid overdoses. The drug reverses the effects of the overdose and only works if opioids are in the system. Naloxone availability varies by state, but many organizations are pushing for its increased availability. Some police departments and schools carry and store the drug for emergencies. Supporters want friends and family members of people with addictions, including other addicts, to be able to administer the drug when necessary.

Three approved treatments of opioid addiction, usually used in combination with other therapy, are methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Naloxone is approved to treat opioid overdose. These medications aid patient recovery and save lives. Orbis Biosciences’TM novel technology can manufacture oral and injectable formulations, both immediate and extended release, that could help drive the compliance necessary to actively treat opioid addiction.

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