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Medically Assisted Treatment for Opiate Abuse

Medically assisted treatment is a form of treatment for substance abuse disorders which involves using medications in conjunction with therapy and community support to treat addicted individuals. In this model of treatment, various types of prescription drugs are given to the addicted individual to help manage cravings for drugs, and increase long term sobriety.

Currently, there are 3 drugs that have been approved for medically assisted treatment (MAT) for opiate abuse disorders. These programs are broken down into different types of approaches, including substitutional and preventative medications.  

Methadone Treatment

What is it?

Methadone is a substitutional medication used to treat opiate addiction. It is a full opiate agonist, meaning that it works by binding to the opiate receptors in the body, and can produce a euphoric feeling.

The method

Methadone maintenance programs work by reducing harm to opiate addicted individuals. The methadone is prescribed in controlled doses by a doctor, therefore lowering the risk of overdose. It is also a clean and controlled form of an opiate, which helps guard against overdoses seen from street heroin which can be mixed with other substances, including fentanyl. Another facet of methadone maintenance programs is that addicted individuals are supplied with clean needles and other implements to prevent the spread of disease or infection.

Methadone programs rely on getting addicted individuals off the streets and back into a routine of managing their lives. Combined with therapy and community support, patients are noted to have better health, find employment, and housing. Eventually, methadone users will have to taper off of the drug in order to avoid withdrawal.

Buprenorphine Treatment

What is it?

Buprenorphine, more commonly known as Suboxone or Subutex, is a combination of substitutional and preventative method. It is a partial agonist, meaning that it both attaches to opiate receptors and blocks other opiates from attaching to the receptors, with little or no feelings of euphoria.

The Method

Buprenorphine treatment is commonly used to assist in opiate detox. The medication is administered to the patient once opiate withdrawal has begun, and stops the withdrawal symptoms. It is especially effective because the medication blocks the opiate receptor once attached to it, so the patient cannot get high off of other opiates such as heroin or prescription pain killers. Buprenorphine treatment is most commonly used as a short term method of treatment to assist patients with acute withdrawal symptoms, and is coupled with therapy and community support, but in certain cases a physician may prescribe the medication more long term.

Naltrexone Treatment

What is it?

Naltrexone is a preventative method of medically assisted treatment. It is an opiate antagonist, meaning that it attaches to opiate receptors and blocks other opiates from attaching to the receptors. Unlike other forms of MAT for opiates, naltrexone does not produce any feelings of euphoria or high.

The Method

Naltrexone is administered either orally or by injection, and is used to block the effects of opiate on addicted individuals. This, combined with therapy and community support, can help to addict remain abstinent from opiates.

It is important to note that these are only a few of a wide variety of treatments available to opiate abusers, and that treatment methods vary case by case.


lynne.walsh. “Medication and Counseling Treatment.” Lynne.walsh, 28 Sept. 2015,