Medication assisted treatment (including Suboxone and Vivitrol)
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is using pharmaceutical medications, prescribed medications to help treat active addiction.
It’s different than just the psychiatric medication that you use to treat underlying conditions of depression and anxiety. MAT treatment is a specific classification of drugs that are used to affect the addiction directly. And so there are agonists and antagonists drugs that provide an effect similar to the drug you were using, but allow you to be more functional and reduce the harm around the habit. You don’t break the habit you use something that’s like a derivative of that substance that would be like subtext for opiates or methadone.
It’s a similar molecular structure and has similar effects but you can manage it better and you don’t deal with all of the negative repercussions or most of the negative repercussions of using heroin.
Then there are the blockers that stop the effect or deter people from using certain substances and abuse of a trial. That’s that classes of drugs. And basically, that’s it’s come into treatment in recovery very strong.
It started with methadone a few decades ago, and then Suboxone a couple decades ago has become very popular.
And it’s understandable. Basically, we’ve been in the midst of a pretty serious opiate epidemic and people are dying. You have city officials, county officials, government officials, parents, loved ones and society as a whole having a conversation about what we do about this.
There are lots of research studies that show that people have a better chance of achieving recovery if they use medication-assisted treatment.
Those studies are complex and I want to get too into that. They’re complicated questions to ask about those studies and their different opinions. It’s not univocal, and everybody has the same opinion. But I want to look at it in general. So what’s going on here? How do we think about this?
You deal with different perspectives on MAT
So if I’m a government official, and there are thousands of people dying in my district, or in my state, or in my city. I’m thinking, “How do I stop people from dying?” I’m gonna take 100 million dollars, and I’m going to put it into what statistically is the most beneficial thing, medication-assisted treatment, people have to stop dying. And it’s really all the government can do.
The government can’t assign an individual therapist, a psychiatrist, long term treatment, isolate people on an island, the government doesn’t have the ability to do nuanced individualized care.
For each and every person who suffers from addiction, the government can’t assign treatment to even 5% of the people who need it.
So I think, how do we stop an epidemic? On that level, it makes perfect sense and I get it. On the individual level, it’s much more complex. I’ll give an easy example. If somebody is a poly substance abuser, let’s say somebody is 23 years old, they use and this is not uncommon. opiates or methamphetamine or cocaine or alcohol or marijuana.
That’s a lot of young people, they use all kinds of stuff, whatever they get their hands on. They also lack discipline, and they lack a lot of structure and maturity. So they actually don’t know how to do basic things like make their bed. That’s something like 60% of the population and people in treatment right now. They don’t know how to live well.
One of the things I’ve concerned about with Suboxone is the difficulty in getting off of Suboxone.
If you go look up, get off of Suboxone and go read the personal forums. You will see how incredibly hard it is. It’s kind of scary. It takes about 45 days, let’s say you’ve been on Suboxone and you started at a 12-milligram dosage, which is normal. And you’ve gotten all the way down to one milligram after three years.
Then you decide, this is getting in the way of my growth, my psychological well being, and I don’t want to be dependent on this anymore. It’s been years. I’ve seen people want to get off one milligram of Suboxone, that it was a 45-day taper meaning take a little tiny bit just less than one milligram, little less over 45 days, and then another month without the substance to get through we call the acute and then sub-acute detox phases.
Then you’re no longer having the physiological symptoms, but you’ve got months and sometimes even a year to deal with the underlying issues and depression that comes up after having been on this substance for so long.
I’m really concerned about putting thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people on Suboxone medication over long periods of time.
What that looks like if there are negative psychological effects down the road. I don’t think we know. Some experts say to never take people off Suboxone. Once they’re on for two or three years. You leave them on it forever. But there’s nobody that’s been on Suboxone for 50 years. It hasn’t been around that long. We don’t know what that means and what that looks like. We still use Suboxone individually.
It’s up to the treatment providers to figure out how to effectively administer Suboxone in smart ways.
Then to compile that data and share it with the rest of the community.
Vivitrol is another option
I’m a huge fan of Vivitrol, Vivitrol is a blocker, and what Vivitrol does is two things, it stops you from being able to get high immediately from opiates. You can do it in an injectable form, which is a little frightening, but it lasts a month.
On the one hand, it physically stops you from being able to do your substance of choice. On the other hand, it’s psychologically really helpful if I’m obsessive, but I know I can’t get high. And I’m willing to get into recovery, it’s a great message to send to myself. You could do Vivitrol with very little side effects for a year and a half, or six months.
Even with Vivitrol, we don’t know the long term psychological effects.
It’s been around 20 years, but they’re not great research and study on this stuff. And everybody’s very different with how they respond to the medication. I’m in favor, in general, of anything that helps people recover and get better, and of course, in favor of people not dying. But we also have to weigh these different claims. And figure out how we use medications in a way that’s effective for individual situations. That’s not an easy task. It’s going to be everybody working together and having conversations like this about medication-assisted treatment.
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