Medication Maintenance Therapy
Medication maintenance therapy is a program that many opioid addicts utilize in place of or before medically assisted detox. It 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, and many individuals choose to stay on medication maintenance for years, even their whole lives.
What Is Medication Maintenance Therapy?
Medication maintenance therapy, also known as medication assisted therapy, is a program that was created almost 50 years ago to treat opioid addiction (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). 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 need to be maintained on a drug like methadone or buprenorphine can recover more safely this way without having to be quickly weaned off opioids.
How Does Medication Maintenance 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 individuals in methadone maintenance programs make frequent visits to outpatient treatment facilities, but this method is also sometimes utilized in inpatient care.
- This therapy works by providing patients with a daily dose of methadone or a dose every three or so days of buprenorphine.
- Patients do not experience withdrawal symptoms (or they experience extremely mild ones) while maintained on the drug. They will also not encounter drug cravings.
- This means they can focus on their daily activities as well as on the other aspects of their recoveries rather than dealing with intense opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Methadone and buprenorphine are both effective drugs for treating opioid addiction through maintenance.
- Methadone is an opioid agonist that is much stronger than buprenorphine. Though it has a higher potential for abuse, it is still used often by patients who need higher doses for stronger dependencies.
- Buprenorphine is safer in abuse situations, but it is not as strong as methadone, meaning it is more effective for those with less intense dependencies. It is often prescribed as Suboxone, a brand drug also that contains naloxone (SAMHSA). The naloxone protects the drug from misuse, as it causes immediate withdrawal if an individual attempts to crush and snort the tablet.
- Both drugs’ administration is highly monitored. A facility must receive special allowance from the government to dispense methadone, and doctors who dispense buprenorphine must be certified as well.
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Medication maintenance is not just medication.
- Most programs also provide individual and group therapy, medical visits with a doctor, and vouchers or referrals to other programs for HIV prevention and testing, vocational counseling, and other necessities.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is some misunderstanding among the general population, which tends to view medication maintenance as replacing one addiction with another.
- Because the drug is being given in stable amounts every day that do not cause a high and because it is prescribed and administered exactly as a doctor recommends, 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, and 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 individuals who choose professional opioid detox are introduced to the medication during their program. They are stabilized on the medication and then, instead of deciding to be weaned off it slowly, 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. Maintenance allows individuals to live safe, substance-abuse-free lives that are not constantly in danger of relapse. They are also continuously monitored for their use. Though some stay on the drug long enough to start taking it home and administering it themselves, there is always an element of monitoring the patient’s usage.
How Long Does Medication Maintenance Therapy 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 either methadone or buprenorphine maintenance. After 12 months, you and your doctor can evaluate the situation and 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, your maintenance therapy will just be another part of your life. You can drive while maintained on these medications, and you will not experience a high. You can start to take your medications home after you have been visiting the clinic for long enough, and 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 Maintenance Therapy?
Medication maintenance facilities exist all over the country 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, you may be a candidate for buprenorphine, which requires less frequent administrations.