Going through opioid withdrawal feels like having a terrible case of the flu. Nausea, body ache, fever and fatigue are common withdrawal symptoms. Anxiety, depression, restlessness and irritability are often part of the picture as well. Treatment drop-out rates are high, and if the opioid addicted person relapses, overdosing is likely—and often deadly.
At the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, we understand the urgency behind keeping opioid dependent patients in treatment. Use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat opioid dependent patients has been shown to keep them in treatment longer and help them to engage in the program. Use of MAT is determined on a case-by-case basis by clinicians who work in multidisciplinary teams to carefully assess each patient's situation. For some patients, medication to ease opioid withdrawal might be determined as clinically appropriate. Other patients might need an extended-release medication to block opioid cravings, increase engagement the treatment and recovery process and help prevent relapse. The interdisciplinary care team may recommend MAT for an extended period of time to help patients establish a strong recovery program post-treatment.
In all cases, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation uses medications only as an adjunct to, and never as a replacement for, Twelve Step, evidence-based addiction treatment. Ongoing recovery management—including continuing care, education and accountability—is especially critical for people in recovery from opioid addiction because the risk of accidental overdose during relapse is extremely high.
Clinicians at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation are seeing promising trends with MAT for opioid addiction. More patients are staying in treatment longer, which allows for greater engagement in other evidence-based therapies and techniques. As national studies consistently show, the longer patients remain engaged in treatment, the better their outcomes and long-term recovery rates.