Learning About Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

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What is opioid use disorder?

Opioid use disorder means using opioid drugs without a prescription or using them differently from what your doctor prescribed.

Opioids are strong pain medicines. Examples include:

  • Hydrocodone.
  • Oxycodone.
  • Fentanyl.
  • Morphine.

Heroin is an example of an illegal opioid.

Opioid use can quickly become a habit. It can change your brain and how it works. If you keep using the drug, you may get strong cravings for it. You may need more and more of the drug to get the same effect. You may become dependent.

What is medication-assisted treatment?

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, involves taking a substitute drug in place of the opioid you were using. The substitute drugs used in MAT include:

  • Buprenorphine combined with naloxone. This drug works by targeting the same places in the brain that opioids do.
  • Methadone, such as Metadol. It stops you from getting the quick "high" of opioids.
  • Naltrexone, such as ReVia. It prevents the feelings of pleasure you get from taking the opioid. This drug is only given after you have gone through withdrawal.

MAT can work in different ways, depending on which medicine you take. Sometimes it can help with withdrawal symptoms. Other times it helps you manage cravings.

When you use MAT, you no longer think all the time about how to get or use drugs. You are more able to focus on getting better. You can work on how you will stay away from using drugs.

What is it like to take this medicine?

Because these medicines are very powerful, doctors follow a strict set of rules for MAT. This is to make sure the medicines are used safely.

Your doctor may have you sign a written agreement to take your medicine exactly as he or she tells you to. You'll also agree to be careful with it and not share it with others. If you don't follow the agreement, your doctor may not be willing to keep treating you.

Depending on the medicine being used, you will probably take a pill every day, at least at first. With some medicines, you may be able to take them less often after a while. You may have to go to the doctor's office or a clinic to get your pill each time.

Your dose may need to be adjusted up or down at first.

Some people have side effects, but they're usually minor.

You might take the new drug for months, years, or even for life.

Along with MAT, counselling and education are also an important part of treatment for opioid use disorder.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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