MAT: California’s Targeted Response to the Opioid Epidemic

MAT and the opioid crisis
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You’ve likely seen the TV commercials for a new statewide initiative from the California Department of Healthcare Services called Choose Change California. This program is designed to take on the opioid epidemic, mainly through the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The program has raised more than $264 million in federal grants to expand the use of MAT throughout California and ensure it is covered by private insurers, Medi-cal and Medicare.

Thanks to this program and other initiatives, the rates of MAT use in California have quadrupled in just four years. While this may seem like good news, many addiction treatment providers believe that the results may not be as purely positive as they seem.

Cons of MAT Expansion

Medication Assisted Treatment uses synthetic opioids to reduce cravings and help people stop dangerous heroin use. In California, buprenorphine is most commonly used in MAT. Buprenorphine is still addictive, just like heroin, though it has fewer risks of overdose and is safer because it is administered in medical settings.

As part of the MAT expansion initiative, any doctor can prescribe buprenorphine once they receive a federal waiver. Patients can receive the drug in primary care settings, community hospitals, and in correctional facilities.

Addiction treatment providers warn that while these changes have led to a huge expansion in MAT, they may keep patients receiving the most effective treatment. MAT is most effective when used in combination with therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, or psychotherapy. When MAT is provided outside of addiction treatment settings, many patients don’t receive this extra support.

Because buprenorphine is still addictive, its use alone may not be enough to stop opioid addiction. Instead, it will lead to long-term use of MAT. While Medication Assisted Treatment is safer, it’s not intended to be used as a lifelong solution to addiction treatment. Patients need to address underlying psychological and emotional issues in addition to MAT for the best chance of recovery.

The increasing attention on medication assisted treatment is having a less favorable effect on addiction treatment centers. Because the government has funded many studies that highlight the effectiveness of MAT and because the cost of MAT is substantially lower than traditional addiction treatment, many insurance companies are pushing this type of treatment.

Is this in the best interest of patient? – many would argue no.

In addition to increased funding for Medication Assisted Treatment, reimbursement for wholesome addiction treatment and mental health care continue to plummet—putting centers and private practitioners at financial risk. Although MAT is an integral part of many programs, these new initiatives and government funded programs are pushing people away from this form of treatment. Patients now receive MAT in locations such as community centers and general practitioners’ offices, without ever addressing the underlying issue that lead to their addiction.

Pros of MAT Expansion

Still, MAT expansion does have some benefits. Studies show that patients who receive MAT have a lower rate of incarceration and homelessness and a higher rate of employment. Although, it is unclear in these studies whether or not the patient is receiving additional therapy or support.

Increasing access to MAT may help prevent relapse and allow patients to return to their normal activities with greater ease. Over time, the improvement in their situation may be enough to help them slowly wean them off medication and lead a healthy, drug free life.

Medication Assisted Treatment expansion in California is unlikely to slow down. It is important to educate yourself and to seek professional help to determine the best method for you.

For questions on Medication Assisted Treatment and how Harmony Place uses it to support our holistic treatment modalities, please contact our team today.

At Harmony Place in Woodland Hills, California, we provide a relaxing, comfortable environment for addiction treatment and recovery with many addiction treatment program options. Contact us today at 1-(888)-789-4330 to learn more about our services and how you or your loved one can prepare for a successful rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction at our California treatment center to treat and maintain sobriety in all forms of drug addiction and those lives affected by the opioid epidemic.