Why Don’t More Drug Addiction Treatment Centers Use Medication-Assisted Treatment?

Calendar icon Last Updated: 06/7/2024

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Heroin addiction treatment methods take a variety of forms and what you will experience in rehab is based on your needs and the approach favored by the facility. The first step of any treatment is intake, during which a thorough evaluation will be done. The results are used to develop an individual treatment plan tailored to your situation. The options that are available to treat you will depend upon the philosophy of the rehab you have chosen. So, there isn’t one type of treatment that is given to all people with heroin addiction. This is why you need to learn a little about a variety of methods so you can make informed decisions about the approach that you feel will work best for you.

The concept of medication-assisted treatment has been in use for decades and you might expect that its use is standard in treatment programs, but that isn’t actually the case. There are a lot of centers that do not use methadone or any of the newer medications in long-term treatment. Patients may only receive them during detox and usage may be abruptly terminated when withdrawal symptoms disappear. But, there is proof that these methods work, so why aren’t they being used more often?

You can speak with someone who has the knowledge needed to answer all of your question, get recommendations for treatment, and learn more about financing. There’s no need to wait.

Does Medication-Assisted Treatment Work?

If the treatment isn’t effective, then obviously, there is no problem with its not being offered. You certainly wouldn’t feel like you were missing out on something if it appeared that it wasn’t going to benefit you. But, medication-assisted treatment does work and there is scientific evidence to back it up.

In a speech to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported scientific research linked medication-assisted treatment with the following outcomes:

  • Decrease in overdoses from heroin abuse
  • Increase in patient retention in treatment
  • Decrease in drug use
  • Decrease in infectious disease transmission
  • Decrease in criminal activity

In addition to the benefits a patient experiences, medication-assisted treatment also has an economic advantage. Analysis that traced people in methadone maintenance treatment revealed every dollar spent on the treatment yielded 38 dollars in associated economic benefits, which was seven times more than people previously believed.

If It Works, Why Isn’t It Being Used?

Experts in the field of addiction agree medication-assisted treatments are “grossly underutilized” in quite a few addiction treatment settings. This is due to a couple of things.

In certain treatment settings, like 12 step ones, medication-assisted treatment is viewed as replacing one addiction with another. This is due to negative attitudes and stigma about these medications. Yes, buprenorphine and methadone (both of which are used in treating heroin addiction) are opiates. But, when used according to the advice of a doctor, they pose no threat of addiction.

The substitution attitude creates a second problem. When people are biased against the medications, they tend to provide smaller doses and limit the amount of time for which patients can use them. This frequently leads to treatment failure, and it causes people to think that the medications lack efficacy. This feeds back into the negative attitudes about using them.

What Should I Be Looking for If I Am Interested in Medication-Assisted Treatment?

First of all, you should know that medication-assisted treatment will be most effective when it is a single component of a larger program that includes behavioral interventions and therapies, screening for and treatment of co-occurring disorders, and overdose protection. So, don’t ask only about methadone or buprenorphine or Suboxone. You need to make sure that medication is one part of a much more comprehensive program.

Be aware that these programs remain relatively rare and you may not be able to find one in your area. They are, however, worth finding, so spend a little time making an effort. You can ask about medication-assisted treatment and work with an expert to find suitable rehab options.