The opioid crisis has taken hold of communities nationwide, and Davis County, Utah is no exception. The statistics around opioid overdoses are staggering and heartbreaking, with over 70,000 people dying from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2019. Davis Behavioral Health has programs in place to help prevent such tragic losses in our community, including a medication assisted treatment program.
Medication assisted treatment is the use of carefully prescribed medications with counseling and behavioral therapies. Together, these tools help those with opioid use disorders (OUD) find relief from cravings and can significantly reduce the risk of overdose and death. This treatment option helps some people sustain their recovery from opioid drug use, giving them the opportunity to rebuild their lives and reconnect with loved ones.
Davis Behavioral Health’s medication assisted therapy program, Opioid Community Collaborative, utilizes three FDA-approved medications for the treatment of OUD:
Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, which means that its job is to block the opioid receptors in the brain, thus preventing the euphoric effects that opioids provide. If someone were to relapse while taking naltrexone, they wouldn’t get the effects that they’re used to experiencing when taking opioids. Naltrexone treatment for opioid addiction reduces the cravings for opioids, but it can only be administered after someone has gone through the withdrawal process, at least seven to 10 days later.
Naltrexone, which is also non-addictive, is taken as either a daily oral pill or a monthly injection. The long-acting injection is often preferred by both clients and medical providers because it is more likely that those with substance abuse issues will adhere to the less-demanding schedule rather than having to take a medication every day.
Buprenorphine, similar to the well-known methadone, works to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal while also blocking the effects of opioids on the brain. Unlike methadone, however, it is easier for physicians and clinics to prescribe and can even be taken at home, though it is an office-based medication at Davis Behavioral Health.
Buprenorphine can be administered in a variety of ways, including injection, sublingual tablet or transdermal patch. It is often used in combination with naloxone, which makes abusing the medication extremely unpleasant and can even cause immediate withdrawal symptoms.
Naloxone is potentially life-saving medication that reverses opioid overdoses. It’s an opioid antagonist, like naltrexone and buprenorphine, and it quickly reverses the effects of opioids, restoring normal breathing to someone experiencing an overdose. Unlike the other two, above-mentioned medications, naloxone is not given to someone who does not have opioids in their system. Rather than being a treatment to prevent opioid abuse, it’s an emergency medication given either as a nasal spray or as an injection.
Davis Behavioral Health, along with other organizations throughout Utah, is part of the Opioid Community Collaborative, a program sponsored and funded by Intermountain Health Care to help prevent opioid abuse. The collaborative is a group of public health organizations, including law enforcement, medical providers and behavioral health centers. Its message is “opt out, speak out, throw out,” to help everyone understand the risks and potential dangers of opioid use.
Medication assisted treatment for substance abuse is evidence-based and has become an effective method in addressing opioid addiction. However, it may not be right for everyone.
One of the greatest benefits of medication assisted treatment is that it works with the brain to help with opioid dependence. There are several other benefits that make it a treatment endorsed by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIT), including the following:
Medication assisted treatment does require strict supervision and a lot of hard work for those looking for sobriety. In some cases, it may not be the treatment of choice. Some of the drawbacks include the following:
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