Medication Assisted Treatment Gains Ground with Forthcoming FDA Guidance

The opioid misuse epidemic continues to grow across the US, taking hold in every community large and small, affluent and impoverished. One treatment option is medication assisted treatment, also known as MAT, but there has been widespread confusion over the appropriate prescribing practices. Now, the FDA has announced that it will issue guidance shortly for physicians and laypeople alike.

MAT’s consist of familiar medications like methadone, and newer ones such as naltrexone and buprenorphine. While each has its benefits and drawbacks, they all work in a similar fashion by blocking the effects of opioids, reducing cravings and easing symptoms of withdrawal. There is a common misconception that patients taking MAT’s still get a euphoric feeling from the medication; however, with better prescribing outlines from the FDA, this will be even less likely. Other MAT’s are also being developed for non-opioid misuse.

An overwhelming reason reported as to why those suffering from addiction do not seek treatment is a fear of withdrawal, and one of the largest causes of relapse is unrelenting physical and mental craving. MAT’s can provide an alternative to unpleasant “cold turkey” symptoms that can include nausea, sweating, vomiting, anxiety, and diarrhea.

The FDA’s guidance will also streamline the process for new MAT’s, or new forms of existing MAT’s to enter the market and reach patients. It will also provide pathways for research into MAT use and efficacy. One new form of MAT that recently entered the market is a one-month injectable dose of buprenorphine, which blocks the effects of other opioids and suppresses the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Unlike methadone, which is usually dispensed daily and requires significant planning, life adjustments, and coordination by patients, a once monthly injection would allow patients to experience minimal negative impacts to their daily lives and functioning.

The publication of FDA guidance may also lead to more physicians who could prescribe MAT’s. Another common barrier to medication assisted treatment is the comparative rarity and relative cost of prescribing doctors. Many MAT prescribing doctors are limited in the number of patients they can treat at any time, and this often leads to waiting lists for treatment. For those suffering from severe forms of substance misuse issues, these delays can be more than inconvenient – they can be fatal.  Official guidance and study by the FDA is a concrete step forward in the public health and policy forum towards addressing the opioid epidemic.

For more information about how public policy can be a tool used to help those with substance misuse disorders, please visit the Ammon Foundation blog! The Ammon Foundation is committed to helping the recovery community across the personal, medical, and legislative spheres.