Have you ever experienced a broken leg? Recovering from this type of injury can be lengthy. Depending on the break it can take anywhere from 6 weeks up to 12 weeks, and sometimes longer, to fully heal. And imagine if rather than things like x-rays, setting the break, a plaster cast, and maybe physical therapy after the cast comes off, that your treatment was instead limited to just a set a crutches. Maybe the break will heal with just the crutches, and maybe not… certainly there is less likelihood of full recovery.
The healing process for a broken bone provides a simple analogy to recover from drug and alcohol addiction. Both take time, commitment on the part of the patient, and treatment that involves well more than a set of crutches. We at BTG believe the most effective way to heal from the disease of addiction is to provide all the tools to heal the root cause of addition – well more than the crutch of Medicated Assisted Treatment.
Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT) is becoming a popular choice among substance abuse treatment facilities. With the spike in overdoses and deaths from opioids, providers are looking for answers. There are many in favor of medication use in view of the potentiated benefits that are provided. While initially appealing the solution that it provides is complicated.
Before looking into the details of the conversation, let us first understand what we are talking about. What is Medicated Assisted Treatment or MAT?
In a previous blog we discussed the workings of Medicated Assisted Treatment. Below is an excerpt:
“Essentially, MAT uses drugs like methadone and the much more popular buprenorphine (suboxone) to provide some mild stimulation of opioid receptors in the brain so that the pain of withdrawal from regular opiates is minimized. They also simultaneously block any euphoric effect, or “high,” that might come from ingestion of any non-prescribed opiates ingested to minimize pleasure associated with these drugs and, in turn it is reasoned, the impulse to use again.”
In theory, it makes good sense and can be a very positive tool for those in the throes of strong physical dependence to painkillers. In practice, there are a number of potential pitfalls to prescribing one drug to help address addiction to another.
The medications used as part of MAT are always intended, when this treatment is approached ethically and responsibly, to be part of a more comprehensive approach to treatment and patient wellness.
Drugs like buprenorphine, and even pure antagonists like naltrexone which are solely designed to block any brain stimulation from opiate use (so the user simply can’t get high), should be one part of an integrative treatment strategy that also emphasizes longer term therapeutic work, 12 step recovery support and accountability, and counseling to address underlying psycho-social, emotional, and life skill issues to help addicts transition to a happy, productive life.
MAT is promoted due to its accessibility and ability to suppress withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience once they stop using. It works quickly and with medical oversight, individuals can use it for years to help avoid returning to opiate use.
Research has found that MAT offers:
While it appears effective in one light, the long-term viability of the individual treated with MAT is dependent upon a number of variables.
In comparing an abstinence based philosophy it is evident that MAT is comparable to a crutch. While it offers some support to the “injury”, it does not prepare the leg bone for proper healing. On the other hand, the abstinence based approach looks at the break and how it can best be healed. The process is not sped up or rushed, rather diligence and patience is practiced. Comparatively, this approach is more effective in the nature of the healing process.
There are tangible concerns in weighing the risks for the use of these various medications to assist in addiction recovery. As for the reality of things, illicit drug use still remains a major concern for an individual especially while taking Methadone. It is also dangerous when taken improperly, as it can trigger addiction. Not only that, but some of the side effects are life threatening such as heart issues and respiratory problems.
This is all to say that “suppressing craving and symptoms with medication (that may also present symptomology), the constant upkeep and dependency provides limited freedom from the grasp of addiction”.
Professionals in the addiction field are acknowledging the benefits but also the risks that MAT present. Sam McMaster is a co-founder and chief clinical officer of a drug rehabilitation center. He is “[aware] the power [the] medications [hold] to stop the chaos ‘ that envelopes the lives of addicted people, but worries it will squeeze out therapies that help [ individuals] learn how to connect, attach to other people and healthy things’ ”.
“My fear is we are heading in a direction where it’s enough; that there’s a wholly pharmaceutical solution to addiction” –Sam McMaster
We are really looking at two things here when it comes to the help needed for potential clientele, passion versus the cash register. The pressure that insurance companies place on providers to use Medicated Assisted Treatment ultimately neglects to look at each individual as a person…A person with real needs, struggles, and unique life circumstances. Pressure in the drug industry does not produce diamonds, rather trailing cracks in the infrastructure of the “bones”.
If we are looking at the greatest interest of our clients, we should be considering their treatment trajectory with passion. Passion, because we believe in their success, we believe that there is hope for a healthier life, and we believe in our approach in conjunction with the pharmaceutical world. This is something that a cash register simply does not consider. We want to heal the ‘break’ the best way possible, not the fastest.
Medication is simply not a standalone or “silver bullet” treatment. It cannot supplant or replace a more integrative, whole person, approach. MAT “does not [independently] address emotional or traumatic issues that may have led to substance abuse”.
Here at BTG we acknowledge the need for a dynamic approach to address the complexities that addiction presents. We also acknowledge that there is no single treatment modality that singly treats the disease. It is with many complementary therapies, consistent effort, and passion that we find our clients experience the most healing.
There are a variety of holistic modalities that we offer here to aid our clients in their healing process. Nutritional therapy is one area. Intravenous amino acid therapy as well as nutritional replacement therapy, work to help clients feel better sooner so that can better engage in our other therapies. IV amino therapy also brings restoration to the clients’ brains to help improve the functioning of neurotransmitters. Nutritional replacement therapy also works to improve the functioning of neurotransmitters as well as restore nutritional healing within the body systems.
Other alternative therapies include Neurofeedback training to help re-balance one’s brainwaves, physical exercise to heal and strengthen the physical body, meditative practices such as yoga and auricular acupuncture to spiritually access the deeper parts of oneself.
All of these tools are instrumental in providing healing in the process of recovering from the broken pieces of one’s life. A broken leg does not heal overnight nor does a broken person. The healing process is a process.
Our abstinence based philosophy is not about being better, it’s about doing what is best. It works attentively and carefully to mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually heal our clients. We are very intentional with our “person centered approach”. With support and guidance, we are able to provide holistic treatment modalities that provide the best form of healing for that specific individual.
Eventually, the leg bones become stronger than they ever were and the cast can then be removed. Ah, freedom. Freedom to live healthfully, fully, and happily in recovery.
Fisher, Mark (2014). Medication Assisted Treatment For Opioid Addiction. Retrieved from http://dbhdid.ky.gov/dbh/documents/ksaods/2014/Fisher3.pdf?t=18452609042018
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (2017). What Does It Really Mean to be Providing Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/education/bcr/addiction-research/medication-assisted-treatment-opioid-addiction-wp-1017
National Drug Court Institute (n.d.). The Pros and Cons of MAT [PDF FIle] (Williams A. R.. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/medicallyassistedtreatment/presentations/The+Pros+and+Cons+of+MAT.pdf
Providers Clinical Support System (2017). Benefits of Medical Assisted Treatment. Retrieved from https://pcssnow.org/resource/benefits-medication-assisted-treatment/