“Medication-assisted treatment” (MAT) refers to the use of certain FDA-approved medications to relieve drug and alcohol cravings and is an increasingly common rehab option for patients with alcohol and/or opiate use disorders. While many addiction treatment providers say they provide MAT therapy, though, the philosophy and approach to using these medications—some of which can be habit-forming—can vary widely (depending on which rehab facility you talk to).
At FHE Health, we have a detox and residential program for MAT stabilization that we designed to maximize your prospects of long-term recovery. We also want every patient who comes through this program to have the assurance that they will be safe, comfortable and always under a high level of 24/7, medical care and supervision. This strong commitment to your safety and wellbeing informs our approach to MAT treatment— an approach that we believe serves our patients’ best interests.
In this section, you’ll learn more about MAT at FHE Health: both what it is and what it isn’t; types of MATs that we use; how and when we prescribe Suboxone; criteria that we consider in determining whether you might be a candidate for short-term Suboxone; and, how we help patients whose needs for long-term Suboxone maintenance may fall outside the scope of our treatment program.
What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?
As originally conceived, MAT was intended to be a temporary and short-term medical intervention during early recovery. It was also meant to be administered within the context of a comprehensive treatment plan comprising intensive behavioral therapies that address the complex spiritual, emotional, and psychological roots of the presenting addiction (not just the physical symptoms).
That original gold standard of care is what informs MAT at FHE Health. We firmly believe that successful recovery from addiction is as much about learning and developing sober coping strategies as it is about physically detoxing from drugs or alcohol.
We take a “do no harm” approach to our administration of MAT: in medically treating a substance addiction like heroin, we are very careful to avoid replacing one addiction with another— for example, replacing heroin with the opioid medication Suboxone, a very common but potentially addictive MAT used to treat heroin addiction.
Goals and Uses of MAT at FHE Health
Detox and stabilization are therefore the goals of MAT at FHE Health. During detox, we use MATs to relieve the pain and discomfort of cravings and other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and to stabilize you for the next phase of rehab and recovery.
For patients with severe addictions to heroin and other opiates, we also use MAT to ensure they are medically and clinically ready to be transferred to one of our medical partners for long-term Suboxone maintenance.
Types of MATs Used at FHE Health
At FHE Health, we use the MATs Suboxone and Vivitrol to treat alcohol and opiate use disorders:
- Vivitrol (naltrexone) is administered when our medical team has determined that you are a good candidate for the MAT. The medication is an “opioid antagonist,” meaning that it blocks many of the same opioid receptors that alcohol and opiate drugs target, cutting off these drugs’ release of dopamine and thereby reducing cravings and drug-seeking urges. Vivitrol can also have a sedative effect, which may further decrease the desire to use alcohol or opiates for sedative purposes.
At FHE Health, we use Vivitrol after detox and during stabilization because, in addition to its advantages mentioned above, the drug is also a very safe medication; and, research has shown that it reduces the risks of relapse and can improve recovery rates.
- Suboxone (buprenorphine with naloxone) is available in sublingual pills or film sheets that dissolve under the tongue. The combination of buprenorphine with naloxone— (another opioid antagonist)— serves to reduce the potential for abuse of this opioid medication.
Suboxone is now the leading treatment for detoxification from opiates. At FHE Health, the MAT is administered to qualifying patients in two phases:
- First, during the induction phase at the beginning of opiate detox, we introduce Suboxone to relieve the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms.
- Second, during the stabilization phase, we use Suboxone to eliminate any lingering withdrawal symptoms and side effects. During this period, we work to adjust and taper dosage levels until Suboxone is no longer needed or the patient is medically and clinically stable enough to transfer to one of our medical partners that provide long-term MAT maintenance.
Why Short-Term Suboxone for Detox and Stabilization
Short-term Suboxone for detox and stabilization is effective at helping many of our patients achieve a safe, comfortable and complete withdrawal. As they taper off Suboxone, patients are also fully participating in an intensive inpatient regimen of group and individual therapies, which help patients identify and address their addiction triggers and related behavioral patterns that need to change.
Because clinical interventions for addiction work best in an abstinence-based setting, we have created our programs to be abstinence-based. We therefore work to ensure that patients can be processing their behavioral issues within a safe, sober and drug-free environment.
How We Help Patients Who Need Suboxone Maintenance
For this reason, when it becomes evident that a patient with severe opiate addiction needs Suboxone treatment longer than for that initial period of detox and stabilization, we can transition them into the care of one of our trusted medical partners who will oversee their long-term medication management. This process involves tapering the patient down to a maintenance level of Suboxone, and working to ensure they are emotionally and physically stable and ready to be discharged and transferred.
How to Know If You’re a Candidate for MAT
MAT is not for everyone. If you have a severe addiction and/or have relapsed multiple times, or have tried numerous abstinence-based treatment programs without success, then you may be a candidate for MAT. If you have overdosed and your life is in danger from chronic relapses, you may also benefit from MAT. At FHE Health, MAT is an intervention that we offer when other avenues to recovery have not been successful.