Medication Helps People Stay Off Opioids

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Combining medication with other forms of therapy can help people with opioid addition avoid relapse by calming cravings and managing the symptoms of withdrawal.

Less than half of the privately drug addiction programs nationally offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT); and even in those programs, only one-third of patients receive MAT, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In Connecticut, there are about 40 Medicaid providers that prescribe medication for treatment.

In our podcast, sponsored by Wheeler Clinic, Dr. Robert Grillo discusses medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

Increasing access to MAT is important given the extreme danger associated with relapse, says Dr. Robert Grillo, medical director for psychiatry at Wheeler Clinic.

“There’s a very, very high relapse rate in opiate addiction and there’s a belief that if you use opiates enough your brain gets sensitized that you need it more than you otherwise would have if you’d never gotten addicted to the medication,” Grillo says. “And so, the whole point is to try to use a safer alternative, much less likelihood of overdose and death and harm reduction from not needing to get involved with illegal activity to obtain drugs.”

Most of the 917 fatal overdoses in Connecticut in 2016 involved opioids, the state Medical Examiner’s Office reports. This year, the state is on pace to record more than 1,000 deaths. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 88,000 Connecticut residents are using drugs illegally.

MAT is underused in part because of the stigma associated with it, Grillo said.

The best-known MAT drug is methadone, which has been used to treat heroin addiction since the 1960s. More drugs have come on the market that either combat cravings, relieve physical withdrawal symptoms or do both. People are typically on these drugs indefinitely, often with dosages decreasing over time.

Wheeler Clinic may begin offering MAT to adolescents, Grillo said. A 2014 study showed that Connecticut had one of the highest rates in the nation of opioid-related emergency room visits for people under 25.

The Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services recommends viewing the Beacon Health Options MAT provider map. Click here.

People in CT seeking MAT can contact Ctsuboxone 860-966-3964.

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