Medication-assisted treatment is often called the gold standard of addiction care. But much of the country has resisted it..
“I’m sick of going to funerals.”
If you ask Jordan Hansen why he changed his mind on medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, this is the bottom line.
The problem is that the moralistic stigmatization is still fairly entrenched in how the US thinks about addiction. But the embrace of medication-assisted treatment shows that may be finally changing — and America may be finally looking at addiction as a medical condition instead of a moral failure.
The research is clear: Medication-assisted treatment works
One of the reasons opioid addiction is so powerful is that users feel like they must keep using the drugs in order to stave off withdrawal. Once a person’s body grows used to opioids but doesn’t get enough of the drugs to satisfy what it’s used to, withdrawal can pop up, causing, among other symptoms, severe nausea and full-body aches. So to avoid suffering through it, drug users often seek out drugs like heroin and opioid painkillers — not necessarily to get a euphoric high, but to feel normal and avoid withdrawal. (In the heroin world, this is often referred to as “getting straight.”)
The research backs this up: Various studies, including systemic reviews of the research, have found that medication-assisted treatment can cut the all-cause mortality rate among addiction patients by half or more. Just imagine if a medication came out for any other disease — and, yes, health experts consider addiction a disease — that cuts mortality by half; it would be a momentous discovery.
“That is shown repeatedly,” Maia Szalavitz, a longtime addiction journalist and author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, told me. “There’s so much data from so many different places that if you add methadone or Suboxone in, deaths go down, and if you take it away, deaths go up.”
That’s why the biggest public health organizations — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the World Health Organization — all acknowledge medication-assisted treatment’s medical value. And experts often describe it to me as “the gold standard” for opioid addiction care.
After practicing in this field for over a decade, I’ve seen it work. This is NOT about switching one addiction to another. Responsible practitioners prescribe the medication WHILE ENCOURAGING folks to start going to 12-step meetings, getting therapy, doing the other things necessary to get into recovery. Recovery is NOT about “not using”, it’s about living in a way that you DO NOT WANT TO USE! Users do drugs to ease their pain/discomfort. Recovery REMOVES the pain/discomfort and allows a better life!
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