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What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

Medication-Assisted Treatment
 (MAT) mixes counseling, behavioral therapies, and FDA-approved medications to treat substance abuse disorders.  Medication-Assisted Treatment utilizes a “whole patient” approach to preventing and treating substance abuse and overdose.

Addiction and the recovery process are complex.  Strong cravings can occur even after successfully completing the detox process.  Though cravings are normal, cravings can also interfere with treatment, and increase the risk of relapse.  Fortunately, there are a handful of medications that can help people fight cravings.  These medications work alongside behavioral and counseling therapies to help patients overcome opioid addiction.  

Table of Contents

  • What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?
  • Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) for MAT Patients
  • Behavioral and Counseling Therapies
  • Controlled Substances for Opioid Dependency
  • Protocol for Starting MAT
  • MAT Objectives and Effectiveness

What Is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance abuse disorders.

MAT is a “whole patient” treatment that combines the use of counseling, behavioral therapies, and medications to treat substance abuse disorders.  Research demonstrates that the combination of counseling, therapy, and medicine can effectively treat and sustain long-term recovery.

Primarily, MAT is the treatment of choice for those addicted to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers.  Prescribed medication works to normalize the chemistry of the brain, while blocking the euphoric effects of opioids. Medication-Assisted Treatment also helps normalize body functions and curb physiological cravings.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved specific MAT medications.  Reputable MAT programs are clinical and personalized to meet the needs of each patient.

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Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPS) For MAT Patients

Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) are created to provide Medication-Assisted Treatment as treatment for opioid abuse disorder.  Additionally, OTPs can provide an array of services that may prevent, reduce, and eliminate the use of illicit drugs, the spread of infectious diseases, or criminal activity.  The main goal of an Opioid Treatment Program is to improve overall quality of life.

In order to provide treatment, Opioid Treatment Programs must be certified by SAMHSA.  The Division of Pharmacologic Therapies, part of the SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, is in charge of accreditation and certification processes for these programs.

Federal law requires that all Opioid Treatment Program recipients receive counseling, education, vocational assistance, and other treatment and assessment services as needed.  MAT professionals can provide treatment and services in correctional facilities, remote clinics, hospitals, or offices.

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Behavioral And Counseling Therapies

Legally, Medication-Assisted Treatment recipients must receive counseling that includes behavioral therapy.  There are many potential components and options in MAT.  Here are some (according to SAMSHA):

  • Individual and group counseling
  • Inpatient and residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Partial hospital programs
  • Case or care management
  • Medication
  • Recovery support services
  • 12-step fellowship
  • Peer support

Although there are many forms of behavioral and counseling therapies available to Medication-Assisted Treatment recipients, not all forms of treatments are necessary for every single person.  Community members support behavioral and counseling therapies.    These individuals play critical supporting roles in long-term recovery.  MAT therapists require patients to obtain vocational training, medical treatment, and education.

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Controlled Substances For Opioid Dependency

The FDA has approved certain MAT’s to treat opioid dependency.  People often have the misconception that during Medication-Assisted Treatments, one drug substitutes the use of another drug.  However, the medications administered during MAT relieve withdrawal symptoms, as well as the psychological cravings that cause chemical imbalances in the body.  Controlled and safe levels of medication to overcome opioid abuse is the foundation of MAT programs. Medications used in MAT have zero effects on an individual’s mental capability, employability, intelligence, or physical functioning.

Who Can Administer MAT Medications?

Only SAMHSA certified OTP’s can dispense Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioid abuse.  Some MAT’s are controlled substances.  All MAT’s can be abused if not used as directed.

Medications for Opioid Dependency

Medication-Assisted Treatment medications used to combat opioid dependency include methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine.  An MAT program can last for months or years.  Some Medication-Assisted Treatments patients have even used these medications throughout their post-addiction lives.  Patients should not stop taking their medications without consulting with their doctor, as halting treatment can have fatal results.


Methadone is a full opioid agonist.  That means that it has similar effects as other opioids.  But, its effects are milder and do not have an impact on patient functionality.

Methadone is used to alleviate drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms for those who are addicted to painkillers or heroin.  According to CSAT, this medication is so effective that one dose of methadone can prevent withdrawals and cravings for up to 36 hours.

Since methadone is also addictive, it is administered in clinics, on a highly regulated schedule, to prevent abuse.  Methadone tricks the brain into thinking that it is still receiving the abused opioid. There is no ‘high.’  The patient feels ‘normal.’   These sensations make withdrawal easier to deal with.


Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It is used to treat addicts of all types of opioids, including heroin, or prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin.  Buprenorphine is usually the first controlled medication prescribed to treat opioid addiction.

This medication is just one component in a comprehensive Medication-Assisted Treatment program.  Since Buprenorphine is an addictive substance, it is often prescribed with Naloxone. Naloxone blocks the addictive opioid effect.

Buprenorphine-containing medications help to decrease associated cravings and alleviate unpleasant opioid withdrawal.  Buprenorphine reduces and suppresses drug cravings, and works in a similar manner to methadone. It is prescribed in sublingual tablet or pill form.  


Naltrexone is a medication used to treat patients suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction.  It comes in either pill or injectable form. Vivitrol is the injectable version of Naltrexone. Naltrexone is administered intramuscularly, once per month.  Naltrexone, in pill form, must be taken once a day, orally. This medication lacks the potential for drug addiction or abuse.

Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors.  Patients who use Naltrexone do not experience the euphoric or sedative effects associated with substances like opioids or alcohol.  

Patient’s taking Naltrexone need to know that the medication decreases tolerance to opioids.  Therefore, if a patient relapses, it can potentially be dangerous if they begin taking the amount of opioid they once did.  Lowered tolerance can result in fatal respiratory depression or overdose. Naltrexone has a sedative effect, which prevents all feelings of euphoria.  


Naloxone is an opioid antagonist.  The medication works by blocking the activity of opioids at receptor sites.  Naloxone has the potential to prevent or reverse life-threatening overdoses. A naloxone injection can be a life saving intervention during an opioid overdose.

Some communities face increasing rates of heroin abuse.  Naloxone auto injection devices are provided to these communities to keep on hand in case of an emergency.  These devices have voice control and give step-by-step instructions on how to administer the drug.

Some signs of an opioid overdose include:

  • Tiny, constricted pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unresponsiveness

Medical Doctors at Recovering Champions are licensed to prescribe vivitrol.  Vivitrol is another opioid antagonist.  Learn more.

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Protocol For Starting MAT

Potential Medication-Assisted Therapy patients must undergo an intake evaluation by a mental health professional.   During the evaluation, the mental health professional will properly diagnose a substance abuse disorder, evaluate the severity of the addiction, and assess the mental and physical health problems of a potential patient.

Upon completion of the assessment, the mental health professional will decide if the patient is an ideal candidate for a MAT.  According to SAMHSA, an ideal candidate for MAT has the following characteristics:

  • Willingness to to comply with prescription instructions
  • Official opioid addiction diagnosis
  • Lack of medical health issues that could interfere with MAT effectiveness

We help all of our clients navigate their treatment options.  We don’t force any client into a Medication-Assisted Treatment program.  Our onsite medical staff provides much needed education and advice.  Very few addiction centers provide the same level of credentialed compassionate care.  We take personalized treatment seriously.

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MAT Objectives And Effectiveness

Recovery is a process, leading to health and wellness improvements.  Those seeking long-term recovery hope to reach their full potential and live a life free of the constraints of substance abuse.  There are special programs that help foster resilience, healthy living, and abstinence from drugs.  These programs also help with housing, education, employment, and other life goals.

Studies indicate that social support groups are seminal during the recovery stage. Community-based programs by behavioral health care providers, social networks, religious or faith-based community, groups, peers, family, and friends make a huge difference in the rate of recovery.

Effectiveness of MAT

An estimated 1.8 million people suffered from an opioid use disorder in 2013.  Most opioid use disorders were related to prescription pain kills.  Roughly 517,000 of those opioid use disorders were related to the use of heroin.  Medication-Assisted Treatment has proven to be effective and has significantly reduced the need for inpatient detoxification services.  MAT is effective because it provides recipients with a comprehensive, individually tailored program for medication and behavioral therapy.  Patients also receive support services, which address additional critical patient needs.

Objectives of MAT

The objective of Medication-Assisted Therapy is full recovery.  And, the ability to live a self-directed life is the most sought after outcome.  MAT has the following positive effects:

  • Decreased use of illicit opiates
  • Decreased criminal activity
  • Improved patient survival rate
  • Increased ability of patients to find and maintain employment
  • Program retention

MAT medications and therapies lower the risk of infectious diseases, like Hepatitis C and HIV.  Sadly, substance abuse puts individuals at risk for contracting contagious diseases such as AIDS, HIV, Viral Hepatitis, Meningitis, and more.  Therefore, it is very important to help people get clean and stay clean.

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Take the First Step Today

At Recovering Champions we help people overcome opioid addiction.  Our professional and caring staff guides all patients through the entire process from the starting phase to the recovery phase and beyond.  Our licensed and certified staff ensures that all patients strive for their goal of reaching recovery and remaining drug free.  If you or someone you know is suffering from drug or alcohol abuse, we are here to help.  Contact us today, so that you or your loved one can get on the road to recovery, and live a longer and healthier life.

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Recovering Champions Is an accredited drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, that believes addiction treatment should not just address “how to stay sober” but needs to transform the life of the addict and empower him or her to create a more meaningful and positive life. We are dedicated to transforming the despair of addiction into a purposeful life of confidence, self-respect and happiness. We want to give recovering addicts the tools to return to the outside world completely substance-free and successful.

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