Learning About Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

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What is opioid use disorder?

Opioid use disorder means that a person uses opioids even though it causes harm to themselves or others. It can range from mild to severe. The more signs of this disorder you have, the more severe it may be. Moderate to severe opioid use disorder is sometimes called addiction. People who have it may find it hard to control their use.

This disorder can develop from the use of any type of opioid. Prescription ones include hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, and morphine. Heroin is an example of an illegal opioid.

With this disorder, you may get strong cravings for opioids. You may need more and more of the opioid to get the same effect. This is called tolerance. Your body may also get used to opioids. This is called physical dependence. If you stop using opioids, you may have uncomfortable symptoms (withdrawal).

What is medication-assisted treatment?

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

  • Buprenorphine. This medicine works by targeting the same places in the brain that opioids do.
  • Methadone. It stops you from getting the quick "high" of opioids.
  • Naltrexone. It prevents the feelings of pleasure you get from using an opioid. This medicine 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 opioids. You are more able to focus on getting better. You can work on how you will stay away from using opioids.

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 instructed. 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 medicine 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, counseling 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 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 http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.