Haverhill, Massachusetts, is no stranger to opioid addiction. The city located about 35 miles north of Boston on the New Hampshire border continues to see overdoses and deaths linked to these potent drugs, including pain relievers and the illegal street drug heroin, which is often cut with another lethal opioid—fentanyl.
Between 2016 and 2019, Haverhill saw nearly 145 deaths confirmed from opioid-related overdoses, according to a report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The numbers could change, as the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is still reviewing cases from those years.
In 2017, Haverhill hospitals saw a 22 percent increase in opioid-related emergencies, which was more than almost anywhere else in Massachusetts that year, according to a Massachusetts Health Policy Commission analysis. Other emergency departments in the state saw a decrease in such visits, the report says.
Despite these sobering numbers, Haverhill is hardly alone in its battle against opioid addiction. In Essex County, where Haverhill is, at least 1,900 died from opioid use between 2010 and 2019, according to a state report.
The effects of the epidemic have also been felt statewide. Massachusetts officials have taken measures to address the public health crisis. Some people who have addiction battles of their own with opioid misuse are working on cutting back on or completely ending their use of opioids, and there are facilities in the area to help them.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Opioid dependence and addiction require effective treatment for individuals to recover from them. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is one approach medical, and government officials support in treating disorders involving opioid drugs and alcohol.
Instead of using only medications or only therapy to treat opioid use disorder, MAT uses both together at the same time to help individuals recover from dangerous drug withdrawal symptoms, relapses, and overdoses that can quickly become fatal.
By using prescription medications, behavioral therapies, and counseling in tandem to address OUD, a person will focus on the “whole person” and the factors that contribute to their substance use disorder, including the ones that are mental and psychological.
MAT is viewed as appropriate for people who struggle with chronic opioid use, past and present. It is designed to help people avoid relapse when trying to reduce or end substance use, and those who are in recovery from opioid use involving prescription medications and/or heroin.
A MAT program teaches patients how to safely manage opioid withdrawals, which can make people go back to using them to make the symptoms stop. It also teaches them how to manage cravings for drugs and recognize the signs of a relapse before it happens. Recovering from substance use disorders takes time and a great deal of patience. A MAT program offers encouragement and support as individuals work toward their recovery goals.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lists several benefits of MAT, including that the approach helps save lives and encourages people to stay in treatment longer. The treatment strategy is also said to discourage people from using opioids and reducing crimes committed by people who have SUDs.
The prescription medications administered to patients in a MAT program are said to stop them from overdosing on opioids because it blocks the effects of these powerful drugs. All medications in a MAT program have been reviewed and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are available only by prescription and administered by medical professionals.
Suboxone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone are the medicines used in opioid treatment programs. They can be administered in the medical detox phase of a treatment program or throughout a program. According to SAMHSA, medications are used to return brain chemistry to normal, block the euphoric effects of opioids and alcohol, and relieve drug cravings. The medications do all of these things without individuals feeling the adverse effects of the stronger drugs they are used to taking.
Should I Try a Medication-Assisted Treatment Program?
Only you or your loved one can decide if it is worth giving medication-assisted treatment a try. An individualized treatment approach has been found to be the most effective because it addresses the person’s specific needs. MAT has positive results, but its use of medications to treat opioid use disorder has drawn some concerns. Some say giving medications to people trying to stop using drugs is counterintuitive and moves people away from their recovery goals.
However, SAMHSA maintains that FDA-approved medications are safe to use for treating opioid dependence. “MAT programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of an abused opioid,” it writes.
MAT patients also have rules to follow, and they must consent to receive monitored medical care, among other services.
If you or a loved one are considering a MAT program for opioid treatment, Serenity at Summit can speak with you today and answer your questions and concerns. If you choose to enter a rehab program for OUD, you will undergo a thorough assessment so that an addiction care professional can recommend the proper placement along the continuum of care, as the American Society of Addiction Medicine explains on its website.