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Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a comprehensive treatment option for substance use disorders. It is typically used to treat addiction to opioids, such as heroin.1

Research shows that MAT can reduce drug use, crime, and needle-sharing. It is also cost-effective and has been shown to increase employment among participants. However, medication alone is usually not enough.2 Many people need counseling and other forms of social support, such as help with employment, relationships, and medical problems.

Medications used in MAT also come with side effects and may not be appropriate for everyone. It’s best to speak with a medical professional or addiction specialist before beginning MAT.

What Is MAT?

Medication-assisted treatment uses medications and counseling to treat substance use disorders. MAT can treat both opioid and alcohol use disorders. The goal of MAT is to help patients achieve full recovery and live a self-directed life.1

MAT is available in a range of treatment settings, including inpatient or residential rehab, hospitals, correctional facilities, remote outpatient clinics, and doctor’s offices.1

The Debate Around Medication-Assisted Treatment

A common misconception is that MAT substitutes one addictive substance for another. Abstinence-only 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous oppose it because it uses drugs to treat addiction, and some treatment centers are hesitant to offer it because they are 12-step-based programs.

However, MAT is an evidence-based treatment approach. Rather than merely replacing the drug of abuse, the medications used in MAT help balance brain chemistry, block the “high” of heroin, temper cravings, and improve daily functioning without the person suffering the effects of heroin.1 Medical professionals prescribe and monitor MAT medications and doses.

Medication-assisted treatment is simply another option for recovery. People who want to get clean should talk to their treatment team to determine whether MAT or an abstinence-based approach is best for them. Some people may try multiple treatment approaches before they achieve lasting recovery.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following medications for opioid use disorder:

  • Methadone is a long-acting opioid that reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms from heroin and other opioids.2 It also blocks the effects of other opioids, should a person use them. Methadone can only be prescribed in federally approved opioid treatment programs and is taken once a day.3
  • Also known as Suboxone when combined with naloxone, buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that also suppresses and reduces cravings for heroin. Its misuse can cause some euphoria and respiratory depression, but to a much lesser extent than heroin or methadone. Physicians who have completed the proper training can prescribe buprenorphine.1,4
  • Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that binds to and blocks the opioid receptors in the brain, stopping the euphoric and sedative effects of the abused drug if someone relapses. It has no abuse potential and can be prescribed by any health professional.1,5

How It Helps

Left untreated, opioid addiction often leads to a significant deterioration in overall functioning. If you are addicted to opioids, you may find yourself struggling to keep a job, engaging in criminal activity to pay for drugs, getting physically ill, exposing yourself to HIV and other diseases, and failing to stay in treatment despite a high level of motivation. Programs that incorporate MAT focus on improving the quality of life for those receiving treatment.1

Research has demonstrated that MAT is an effective treatment for opioids because it can:

  • Reduce criminal activity. A study conducted on 933 heroin addicts showed that rates of criminality, arrests, and drug dealings decreased during episodes of methadone maintenance treatment when compared with addicts not in treatment.6
  • Reduce needle sharing and the contraction of HIV and other diseases. A systematic review conducted on 28 studies involving 7,900 patients demonstrated significant reduction in HIV risk behaviors in patients receiving methadone maintenance.6
  • Be cost effective. When considering the many costs to society associated with heroin use, including medical costs, law enforcement costs, and drug-related deaths, methadone maintenance treatment is extremely cost-effective.6 After examining the average cost of a methadone maintenance treatment day, measurements of criminal activities rates, and the societal costs of crimes, one study yielded a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4 to 1 for methadone maintenance.6
  • Reduced drug use. In a long-term follow-up study of patients on buprenorphine-naloxone (Suboxone), half of the patients said they had remained clean 18 months after the start of treatment. After three and a half years, the percentage of those who said they were abstinent increased to 61%.7
  • Increase employability. In an early study of 100 chronic heroin users who participated in methadone maintenance treatment, their employment rate increased from 21% at admission to 65% a year later.6

Is MAT Right for Me?

If you are struggling with addiction, MAT may be an effective addition to your recovery program and should be considered when choosing a treatment program.

However, these medications are not suitable for everyone. It’s best to speak with your doctor or treatment provider to determine if MAT is best for you. Some MAT medications may be unsafe for people with certain health conditions because of undesirable side effects.2

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has provided the following recommendations about which patients may benefit from certain MAT medications:2

  • Methadone: can be accepted into an approved program; enjoys structured programs; has severe or chronic pain; is being treated for HIV/AIDS; is pregnant or post-partum
  • Buprenorphine: is best suited for treatment in a doctor’s office; is motivated to try the medication; can stick to a treatment plan; is being treated for HIV/AIDS; is pregnant or post-partum
  • Naltrexone: can stop using heroin for 7 to 10 days; is mandated by the courts or an employer; has alcohol issues; wants to stop heroin use now; is entering treatment from prison or jail

Currently, no MAT medications are FDA-approved for pregnant women—though they have been used under close medical supervision. Methadone can help control withdrawal symptoms and help stabilize heart rate, blood pressure, and other maternal and fetal functions.2

Remember that the medications in MAT are part of a larger, comprehensive treatment approach that addresses many facets of life. Federal law requires patients who receive MAT as part of treatment to also receive medical, vocational, educational, and other treatment services.1

Find a Program

If you are looking to enter treatment, it may be beneficial to speak to an addiction treatment professional about the addition of MAT in your recovery plan. You can also search our treatment directory for MAT programs that may be suitable to your needs.

Let’s verify your coverage for Heroin treatment at an American Addiction Centers location. Your information is always confidential.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Medication Assisted Treatment.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Decisions in Recovery: Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Methadone.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Buprenorphine.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Naltrexone.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse International Program. (2018). Methadone Research Web Guide.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Long-Term Follow-Up of Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction to Pain Relievers Yields Cause for Optimism.

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