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Medication-Assisted Treatment: Abstinence Isn’t Enough

Last updated: October 1, 2018

Letter written by Joan B. Lehmann, M.D., Adult Addiction Clinic
August 2016

An opioid addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease. Abstinence may serve a few, but most opiate-addicted patients are chronic users with a high risk for relapse and they require long-term medication-assisted treatment. The body can detoxify from ‪‎opioids‬ in a matter of days, but the brain needs months or years for ‪‎recovery‬.

There is a common misconception that methadone substitutes one drug for another. To the contrary, when dosed correctly, methadone blocks the brain from cravings, does not cause euphoria (the high), and allows patients to rebuild their lives with steady employment and stronger family relationships.

Rapid detoxification and abstinence are largely unsuccessful because patients who stop methadone abruptly are in danger of relapse and overdose just like those who stop illegal opiates abruptly. Similar to diabetes or hypertension, a chronic disease requires chronic treatment.

With more than five decades of clinical studies and a successful track record, MAT remains the best treatment available for most opiate-addicted patients.

View more information about the Department of Health’s Adult Addiction Program.

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