It is possible to fight drug addiction with drugs. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are effective for treating opioid-use disorders. MAT decreases opioid use and the risk of death from opioid overdose deaths. Using addiction medicine has also been shown to reduce criminal activity and to help keep people recovering from addiction in treatment.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends MAT as part of a comprehensive recovery treatment plan and provides a treatment guideline for medical professionals who treat opioid-use disorders.
It is not, as families sometimes worry, just replacing one drug addiction with another. The substance abuse programs offered by Zucker and South Oaks Hospital, for example, treat addiction medically, prescribing addiction medication, along with psychosocial counseling and developing coping skills.
Think of it as having a chronic illness that requires medication. You may need to take medication forever for hypertension, but that doesn’t mean you’re addicted to the medication. The medication doesn’t cure the chronic illness either, so even if it’s under control, you still have the illness and management requires diligence.
“If you're diabetic and don't take your medicine or you eat a lot of cake and your blood sugar gets really high, that’s a relapse,” Goldman says. “Do we consider the patient a total failure? No. We continue to work with them, maybe change their medication, and educate them on managing their illness. Only with addictive disorders do we declare treatment unsuccessful and give up. It’s a chronic illness. There are ups and downs.”