With the national opioid crisis growing day by day, government officials are scrambling to find solutions. Overdose deaths are at an all-time-high, becoming one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The Justice Department has been suggesting to crack down on crime; going after drug manufacturers and doctors who fraudulent distribute opioid painkillers. Many people are insisting that this isn’t enough. Some are even insisting that the tough-on-crime approach was one of the factors that lead to this crisis in the first place while citing the massive prison population caused by the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s. Now, one federal official is calling for a progressive plan of action to tackle the crisis: MAT programs.
In a testimony to Congress, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that his agency plans to leverage the use of medications for opioid addiction, including methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, to confront America’s drug overdose crisis.
“There’s a wealth of information supporting the use of these medications,” Gottlieb said in his testimony. And he’s right. There are many studies with mounting evidence that MAT (medication-assisted treatment) leads to recovery for more than half of patients. MAT also reduces opioid-related mortality by half, or even more. The CDC, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and World Health Organization all recognize the significant medical value of MAT programs and highly recommend the treatment. Most experts generally consider MAT programs to be the gold standard of opioid addiction treatment.
The FDA also has the power to help curb the stigma surrounding MAT. Many people, including doctors, have held beliefs that MAT programs simply replace addiction with another drug without actually treating the problem. This stigma has even been held at the federal level with former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stating: “If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much. Folks need to be cured so they can be productive members of society and realize their dreams.”
FDA labeling can entice doctors to use MAT programs more frequently and suggest it as a first line of defense for overdose survivors. Gottlieb also stated to Congress: “We’re focusing on the data in the drug labeling that can help drive broader and appropriate prescribing. So one concept that FDA is actively pursuing is the research necessary to support a label indication for medication-assisted treatment for everyone who presents with an overdose, based on data showing a reduction in death at a broader population-level. Such an effort would be a first for FDA.”
What Exactly Is MAT?
MAT relies on drugs such as buprenorphine and naltrexone to limit cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and even the ability to successfully relapse. These medications are generally combined with intensive behavioral therapy to help treat the underlying causes and triggers of addiction. Studies show that patients undergoing MAT are more likely to continue therapy and attend sober fellowship meetings, like AA or NA. This is likely due to the lack of withdrawal and intense cravings of early recovery. Without these symptoms, a person is enabled to focus on themselves more seriously.
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. This means that it is technically an opioid, so a person will not experience withdrawal. Buprenorphine is different than other prescription opioids because it does not cause the typical euphoric high associated with other painkillers. Since a person is partially getting their “fix,” their cravings are significantly reduced. Suboxone, the most common brand of buprenorphine, also contains the drug naloxone. Naloxone is an opioid blocker and prevents a person from being able to inject the drug. The drug is only effective when it is dissolved under the tongue, similar to a breath strip.
While a person in on buprenorphine they cannot use other opioids. The buprenorphine binds to opioid receptors in the brain and blocks other opioids from being effective. This makes relapse less likely to be successful if a person were to even try. The FDA has even recently approved a buprenorphine implant. This eliminates the need for daily dosing, making the treatment process even smoother. With the implant, a person cannot skip a dose in order to relapse. Once the implant is inserted, a person will have a 6-month dose of buprenorphine.
Another popular drug showing to be extremely useful is naltrexone. Naltrexone is an opioid block, meaning that if a person tries to use any opioid at all it would not be successful and they would not feel the euphoric high. The drug has also been proven to reduce cravings in many patients. The most successful form of the medication is known by the brand name Vivitrol, which is the injectable version of the drug. Vivitrol is injected once a month, leaving a person unable to use opioids for at least 30 days. Vivitrol is more effective because it eliminates the need for daily dosing, similar to the buprenorphine implant.
These moves by the FDA will hopefully make MAT more popular nationwide. So far, it is the only effective way to limit the deaths associated with the opioid crisis.
How Pinnacle Can Help
One of the most effective ways to beat addiction is to start recovery at an addiction treatment center. Pinnacle Treatment Center is a comprehensive program that addresses the root causes of addiction and how to overcome it. Pinnacle provides intensive therapy along with lectures and exercises for life skills and relapse prevention. Patients will be involved in group therapy sessions as well as 12-step groups like NA and AA. Pinnacle will even help manage aftercare planning to ensure their patients remain on the right path after treatment. A well-rounded program like this is the best way to start recovery today and take control of your life. Call us today at 1-866-301-0573.