Medication Assistance Treatment (MAT) is an important tool for preventing overdoses as the opioid crises rages on. The U.S. Substance abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website states, “A common misconception associated with MAT is that it substitutes one drug for another. Instead, these medications relieve the withdrawal symptoms and psychological cravings that cause chemical imbalances in the body. MAT programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of an abused opioid,” (retrieved 02/21/19 from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment#medications-used-in-mat). Two paragraphs later it states, “People may safely take medications used in MAT for months, years, several years, or even a lifetime.”
This contradiction has led to a great deal of confusion as this treatment method is clearly intended for a short-term recovery tool which has morphed into a long-term crutch for those trying to recover from opioid dependency and the frustrated doctors trying to help them. This is largely due to the fact that replacement drugs such as Methadone, Suboxone, and Buprenorphine can also cause dependency and withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, these substances themselves can be abused. Further complicating matters is the rise of recovery centers profiting from prescribing these medications and a growing rehab-clinic market leading to a perpetual administration of medications intended to be a short-term measure (retrieved 02/21/19 from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/06/opioids-hidden-epidemicfraudulent-drug-treatment-centers.html).
My concern with the use of MAT is that doctors have been encouraged to prescribe these stop-gap measures without being advised on how to treat the resulting secondary dependency. Furthermore, the AMA (American Medical Association) has recently come to the conclusion that resolving pain with non-pharmaceutical methods is our salvation from the opioid crisis (retrieved 02/21/19 from https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/opioids/hhs-official-better-pain-treatment-key-ending-opioid-crisis). This makes total sense, and physicians have already cut opioid prescriptions substantially in the past couple of years in response to mounting pressure resulting from growing numbers of opioid-related overdoses. The difficulties in implementing this strategy lie in the fact that MD’s do not have many non-medication tools in their medical bag beyond surgery to effectively manage pain syndromes; this is increasingly resulting in “pain refugees” (retrieved 02/2019 from https://harpers.org/archive/2018/04/the-pain-refugees/)
There is some light of sanity looming and the end of this dark tunnel however; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has come to the rescue. “The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016 led to the creation of the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force (Task Force), whose mission is to determine whether gaps in or inconsistencies between best practices for acute and chronic pain management exist and to propose updates and recommendations to those best practices.” (Retrieved 02/21/19 from https://www.hhs.gov/ash/advisory-committees/pain/reports/2018-12-draft-report-on-updates-gaps-inconsistencies-recommendations/index.html). A resulting report recommends modalities such as acupuncture and massage, among other holistic modalities. However, insanity persists because there is little funding available to these treatments which are not well-covered by insurance. MD’s are increasingly advising patients to seek out acupuncture, but they cannot afford the treatment protocols as it takes a series of 20 or more treatments for withdrawal and full recovery.
Acupuncture is an evidence-based treatment protocol that has been shown to be effective for both pain, withdrawal, and full recovery as established in my recent book Natural Therapies for Overcoming Opioid Dependency. Unlike long-term use of MAT therapy, patients have a real chance of a full recovery, both mentally and physically by using acupuncture, herbs, and other natural therapies detailed in the book. These therapies can:
- Provide a symptom-free withdrawal
- Reduce pain
- Rewire the brain to eliminate cravings and recidivism of opioid addiction
- Rebuild the immune system
- Re-establish vitality and natural energy
- Repair the digestive system
I have personally had to assist patients in detoxing from MAT medications and have heard the many stories of how these addictive medications have only prolonged suffering for those attempting to rid themselves of opioid dependency. While it may be a useful stop-gap in conventional addiction treatment for those at risk of overdose, it is unnecessary. Once medical doctors understand that acupuncture and herbs are a more humane and cost-effective way of breaking the opioid cycle and funding is made available, patients will suffer less and break the cycle of dependency more efficiently.