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.