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Medication-assisted treatment has become an extremely controversial topic. When it comes to finding the correct form of substance abuse treatment, patients must remain especially wary and diligent when making a choice. What works for one person, may not be the most effective route for another. When executed properly and deemed medically necessary, medication-assisted treatment saves lives. 

The stigma surrounding medication-assisted treatment has the potential to prevent addicts from receiving the help they need. If we do not work together to create a more supportive environment, the relapse and overdose rates will continue to rise. In 2017, about 72,000 people died from a drug overdose - not counting all of the unreported deaths. Addiction has become a national crisis, yet we as a whole still contribute to the stigmatic atmosphere surrounding treatment that incorporates tapering medication. 

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment is designed to help patients safely taper off of substances like opiates. Typically, methadone is the primary medication used to aid a patient throughout their withdrawal process. Methadone is a replacement for opioids but does not produce any euphoric properties. Methadone is meant to be used short-term, solely for the purpose of weaning off of drugs like heroin. While it is possible to become addicted to methadone after long-term use, it is less addictive and safer than other opioids. 

When a patient takes methadone during detox, they experience less of the adverse side-effects associated with the withdrawal process. As a result, the patient will have a better chance of completing detox - bringing them one step closer to long-term sobriety. 

The whole purpose of incorporating these tapering medications is to ensure patients’ safety throughout the withdrawal process and keep them comfortable enough to continue treatment. The reason that medication-assisted treatment is beneficial, is because it subdues cravings during early-recovery. This allows the patient to receive treatment for the mental aspect of addiction while detoxing, providing them a stronger foundation of recovery.

How the Stigma Prevents Recovery 

Many recovered addicts view people who use methadone or suboxone as if they aren’t really sober. The controversy is constantly publicized on social media platforms, inside of recovery meetings, and throughout society. When a suffering addict is constantly told that medication-assisted treatment doesn’t work, is not good enough, or isn’t considered getting sober, they become defeated. Ultimately, this lengthens the cycle of addiction; keeping addicts sick and possibly leading them closer to their deaths. 

The president-elect of the American Medical Association, Patrice A. Harris, explains it best; “They must fight to end stigma surrounding substance use disorder and medication-assisted treatment, which has been shown to decrease overdose mortality, reduce transmission of infectious disease and reduce general health care expenditures”. 

It is extremely selfish to condemn medication-assisted patients who are attempting to save their lives. It is not uncommon for addicts to bounce from one treatment center to another, attempting complete abstinence and failing each time because they were not prepared. Instead of forcing someone into complete abstinence when they aren’t ready, we should encourage them to continue on at whatever stage of their recovery they are in. If we don’t meet addicts and alcoholics where they are at, we are just prolonging their disease. 

WHY MEDICATION-ASSISTED TREATMENT IS NECESSARY 

With a complete opioid epidemic on our hands, we have to come to terms with the fact that maintenance programs are sometimes the only option for addicts. When someone is addicted to alcohol, they typically can drink for years on end until they obtain any life-threatening illnesses. Not to say that alcoholism isn’t a serious disease - because it totally is. The difference between alcoholism and opiate addiction, though, is people who suffer from opioid abuse tend to see consequences sooner. Heroin or prescription opiate overdose is more common, especially with the rise in Fentanyl

We need to prioritize human life over our obsession with complete abstinence. Not to be misunderstood, I am an advocate for abstinence and total sobriety. I did not go through any form of a maintenance program, have recovered from addiction, and live in complete abstinence from all substances. The difference is that I was ready for complete abstinence, it wasn’t forced upon me, and I was given a choice in how I wanted my recovery to look. When we force recovery onto other addicts, they move closer to their addiction and farther away from sobriety. 

For example, if you know that you are not ready for complete abstinence, but want to get off of opiates, maintenance programs are available. There are always risks associated with maintenance programs, but continuing to use heroin is equivalent to succumbing to a death sentence. To ensure that you do not trade one addiction for another, make a plan. Before you go into a maintenance program, tell your loved ones. Have people standing by that can keep you accountable and make sure that you do not stay on tapering medication longer than medically necessary. 

Michael Botticelli, the director of the National Drug Control Policy said, “Medication-assisted treatment saves lives while increasing the chances a person will remain in treatment and learn the skills and build the networks necessary for long term recovery”. 

Recovery looks different for each individual. Everyone comes from a different background, with varying personal traumas that affect them in a different way than they may affect you. We need to normalize the concept that everyone can have a different journey in recovery, rather than bashing people whose sobriety took a different route than yours. All we should do is support our fellow addicts, provide them with advice when they seek it, and pray that they find recovery as we did. Creating a supportive environment for struggling addicts and alcoholics is extremely vital in order to decrease the exponential rising death toll.  At the end of the day, we are all working towards a common goal - having the opportunity to live a happy, successful life. If someone needs to utilize medically-assisted treatment in order to obtain the life that they want, we should support them in their endeavors.

Author Bio: 

Kailey Fitzgerald is a writer for www.divinedetox.net, a treatment center located in Southern California. She is passionate about breaking stigmas and spreading awareness in relation to mental health, addiction recovery, and trauma.

Addiction Medicine


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