Even though studies show that Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) reduces opioid use, opioid-related overdose deaths and the incidence of relapse, misunderstanding and harmful stigma around this effective and recommended treatment approach still exists. Knowledge about the facts and science is critical to making any treatment decision, especially treatment for opioid addiction.

The United States is in the throes of an opioid addiction crisis. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, in 2016 over 42,000 drug overdose deaths involved opioids, which is about 115 opioid overdose deaths a day. Fortunately for those trying to recover from this powerful addiction, access to medication assisted treatment is increasing.

“Medication assisted treatment works,” said Alex Azar, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, to a gathering of the nation’s governors in February 2018 when speaking about the U.S. opioid crisis and addiction treatment options. “The evidence on this is voluminous and ever-growing. Failing to offer it is like treating an infection without antibiotics.”

Currently, only about one third of the country’s addiction treatment centers offer MAT. The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration defines MAT as the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies for the treatment of substance use disorders.

One of the reasons MAT has not been more widely available is the misconception that using medication to treat opioid addiction is simply replacing an addiction to opioids with different drug dependence. Instead of viewing addiction as a chronic disease that can be effectively treated and managed with medicine, much like hypertension, opponents to MAT tend to view addiction not as a disease but as a moral failing and MAT as a crutch. Unfortunately, this outdated view of opioid addiction and MAT has undermined too many brave attempts to break the cycle of opioid addiction.

Research is helping to dispel misconceptions with science. The data show that MAT is one of the most effective treatments available for opioid addiction and that addiction is in fact a chronic brain disease. It is critical to understand the data and science behind addiction – particularly how opioid addiction changes an individual’s brain chemistry – in order to select the opioid addiction treatment approach that is most likely to end the destructive cycle of opioid addiction.

For more information on treating opioid addiction with MAT, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse website.