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Medication Assisted Therapy & Treating Patients with Opioid Abuse Issues

The opioid crisis in the United States has been a growing problem during the last few decades. At least 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids. Helping these patients break the addiction cycle is a major challenge and concern. Therefore, prescribing and successfully administering an effective treatment plan is very important. A recent review analyzed the effectiveness of a treatment approach called medication assisted therapy (MAT). Let's take a look at how this treatment works.

 

How Does MAT Work? 

Medication assisted therapy is designed to help patients with substance abuse issues. It combines a medication, like buprenorphine, with counseling and behavioral therapies to help transition a patient away from opioid dependence.

How do these MAT medications work? Basically they are "drugs to get off drugs." Buprenorphine, for example, works by targeting the areas of the brain that opioids target. It helps to relieve drug cravings and reduces withdrawal symptoms.

When a patient is receiving MAT, there are frequent office visits, check-ins, and drug tests. They also may be on the medication for a long period of time, requiring many prescription refills. Although it is a resource intensive treatment, it is effective and offers addicted patients hope of getting off these addictive painkillers.

 

Doctors Who Can Treat MAT Patients

Due to the opioid crisis, Medicaid has expanded its MAT coverage to many states. Also, more than just doctors can now prescribe this treatment. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can get permission to prescribe this treatment in some states.

MAT is also not limited to specialty medical centers like pain management clinics. Some primary care physicians can prescribe this treatment. However, some training is needed. To prescribe buprenorphine, for example, doctors need to take an eight-hour course first.

Although many primary care doctors probably didn’t get into the medical field with a desire to treat opioid addiction, it’s unfortunately becoming a commonplace. However, more physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants are needed to help fight this growing public health problem.  MAT is an effective tool for both primary care and pain management doctors to use to help struggling patients and combat the opioid crisis.

 

Image courtesy of dream designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Author
Apex Medical Center

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