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There is a common misbelief among many people, including some addiction treatment providers, that people who are taking medication for opioid (e.g., heroin, OxyContin, Percodan, Vicodin, codeine) addiction are not in recovery. The idea that you should not take medication for opioid addiction, a serious medical disorder, is dangerous. Medications prescribed by a doctor are an effective, potentially lifesaving, treatment for this issue. Medication-assisted treatment (also called MAT) reduces drug use and helps keep people in treatment longer. In fact, studies show that combining medication with therapy yields the best results for opioid addiction.
The following drugs have been approved to treat opioid addiction: methadone, naltrexone (trade names include Vivitrol®, Revia® and Depade® ) and buprenorphine, which may be combined with naloxone (trade names include Suboxone® Subutex® and Zubsolv®). These medications work in different ways. Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids so people can’t get high or overdose if they use. Methadone and buprenorphine are opioids that reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and allow individuals to function normally in everyday life. When properly taken as prescribed by a physician, these drugs do not cause the feelings of euphoria and grogginess associated with opiate use.
How long a person should take medication for addiction depends on the severity of the disease and other factors affecting recovery. For people whose addiction has progressed to a chronic condition, they may need to take medication for the rest of their lives, just like people who have asthma, diabetes or heart disease. People with less severe or chronic forms of addiction may only need to take medication for a year or so, depending on their treatment progress and their doctor’s judgment.
Unfortunately, Narcotics Anonymous states that people taking methadone are not sober and can be barred from sharing personal experiences at meetings. Some treatment providers believe that abstinence from all potentially addictive substances, including methadone and buprenorphine, is required for recovery. Perhaps this reflects the mistaken belief that addiction is a character flaw or a moral weakness, rather than a disease. It’s time to move past the stigma and misunderstanding of addiction and give people the help that they deserve and that can save their life.