Medication Maintenance Therapy
If you’re trying to quit painkillers or heroin, you’ve probably heard of medication maintenance therapy (MMT). But what is MMT? It is a program that many opioid addicts use in place of or before medically assisted detox. This is a treatment option that uses both medications and behavioral therapies to create a well-rounded recovery for patients. The practice has been used since the 1960s by those who wished to put an end to their opioid abuse. Many people choose to stay on medication maintenance for years, even their whole lives.
What Is MMT?
Medication maintenance therapy, also known as medication assisted therapy, is a program that was created almost 50 years ago to treat opioid addiction. This program combines the use of maintenance drugs like methadone or buprenorphine, which minimize drug cravings and reduces withdrawal symptoms, and behavioral therapies. Because these programs offer both treatment options, they are considered full, well-rounded addiction rehab programs.
Medication maintenance is a commonly used option for opioid addiction, especially in the case of heroin dependence and/or long-term opioid abuse. People who are maintained on a drug like methadone or buprenorphine can recover more safely than if they were quickly weaned off opioids.
How Does Medication Assisted Therapy Work?
This program works just the way it sounds like it does: by maintaining patients on a medication and providing them with additional treatment options for a safe, well-rounded recovery.
Most people in medication assisted therapy make frequent visits to outpatient treatment facilities. However, this method is also sometimes used in inpatient care.
- Medical maintenance works by providing patients with a daily dose of methadone. With buprenorphine, a dose is given every three or so days.
- Patients experience minimal withdrawal symptoms while maintained on the drug. It also curbs drug cravings.
- Patients can focus on their daily activities and other aspects of recovery rather than dealing with intense opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Methadone and buprenorphine are both effective maintenance drugs.
- Methadone is an opioid agonist that is much stronger than buprenorphine. Though it has a higher potential for abuse, it is still used by patients who need higher doses for stronger dependencies.
- Buprenorphine is safer in abuse situations, but it is not as strong as methadone. This means it is more effective for those with less intense dependencies. It is often prescribed as Suboxone, a brand drug that contains naloxone (SAMHSA). The naloxone deters misuse, as it causes immediate withdrawal if someone attempts to crush and snort it.
- The administration of these drugs is highly monitored. A facility must get special permission from the government to dispense methadone. Doctors who dispense buprenorphine must be certified as well.
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Medical maintenance is not just medication.
- Most programs provide individual and group therapy and medical visits with a doctor. They may also give vouchers or referrals to other programs for HIV prevention and testing, job counseling, and other necessities.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is some misunderstanding about medication maintenance. People tend to view it as replacing one addiction with another.
- The drug is given in stable amounts every day that do not cause a high. It is also prescribed and administered exactly as a doctor recommends. Therefore, it is not the same as substance abuse.
Medication maintenance is an extremely popular program for opioid addiction treatment. According to Harvard Medical School, in 2005, there were 100,000 American addicts maintained on methadone. Also, with the approval of buprenorphine for maintenance treatment in 2002, many more have started this program.
When Should Medication Maintenance Therapy Start?
Medication maintenance can start whenever you need it to. Many people who attend opioid detox start the medication during their program. They are stabilized on the medication and then, instead of weaning off it, they choose to be maintained on it.
This is an effective option for those who have tried to detox from opioids before and relapsed or those who have had long-term substance use disorders. Medical maintenance allows people to live safe, substance-abuse-free lives with a lowered risk of relapse. They are also monitored regularly for their use. Though some stay on the drug long enough to start taking it home and administering it themselves, the patient’s usage is still tracked.
How Long Does Medical Maintenance Last?
Medication maintenance therapy should last at least 12 months, according to the NIDA. This is because it takes a long time for the patient to become stabilized and to be able to build a strong recovery around medical maintenance. After 12 months, you and your doctor can determine if you would like to continue with maintenance. Some people stay on this treatment for years.
Once you and your doctor find the right dosage, MMT will just be another part of your life. You can drive while maintained on these medications, and you will not experience a high. After visiting the clinic for long enough you’ll be able to take your medications home. Then you can live your life as you normally would. You can go to work, raise a family, and do everything else you want to do—all while being maintained on methadone or buprenorphine.
Where Can I Find Medication Assisted Therapy?
Medication maintenance facilities exist all over the country. They can be found in outpatient clinics, doctors’ offices, and inpatient centers. You should be able to find a methadone center near you that you can visit every day if necessary. If not, buprenorphine may be best for you, which requires less frequent visits.