There is a multitude of misleading information on the internet and beyond regarding medicine assisted treatment (MAT) for heroin and opiate addiction. Regrettably, many people who both lead and attend 12 step program treatment developed and provided by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its sister program Narcotics Anonymous (AA) are against Methadone, Suboxone, Naltrexone (Vivitrol and ReVia), etc. But why is this the case? Why do many 12 steppers (those who attend the 12 step meetings) have such a problem with the MATters (those using medicine assisted treatment to conquer heroin addiction)?
Medicine Assisted Treatment: Stop the Stigma
Regrettably, the stigma and stereotypes related to addiction and various treatment modalities isn’t going away anytime soon. Methadone centers are still being picketed and many people (not just those who attend the 12 step program) consider the matters (MATters) “unclean”, “dirty” and “not sober”. This simply isn’t the case.
This community supports medicine assisted treatment (and any recovery option that takes those suffering from addiction off of heroin) and when done right, those undergoing treatment can live normal, healthy and constructive lives and thus, we believe, they are in a state of active recovery, not active addition. This includes medications such as Methadone, Suboxone and Naltrexone (Vivitrol and ReVia)
In many cases, it’s the few abusing a program that ruin the reputation of a particular treatment modality. However, using medication as directed by a licensed physician is NOT the same thing as getting high.
Isn’t Medicine Assisted Treatment (MAT) Trading One Drug (Heroin) for Another (Methadone, Suboxone, Etc.)?
Medicine assisted treatment can be considered drug replacement therapy. But there is a huge different between an unregulated, illegal drug that’s often mixed with other toxic chemicals far more dangerous than the heroin itself (such as fentanyl) and a regulated medication prescribed and administered by a licensed physician. Furthermore, ethical doctors and programs will work with each recovering addict and slowly taper them down off their medication as appropriate so the end result is freedom from all substance use. Methadone, Suboxone, Naltrexone, etc. are far less dangerous than heroin and MATs are sometimes part of a program that includes counseling (both individual and group) modalities.
But Isn’t Undergoing MAT just a “Crutch”?
Addiction is a disease and the “sick” need a “crutch” in order to heal. Would you advise a man or woman with a broken leg and a cast to throw down their crutch and walk on it? Absolutely not! So why would you advise someone suffering from addiction to stop what’s proven scientifically to work better than going cold turkey and cease using medicine assisted treatments?
Every treatment modality can be considered a crutch. That includes the 12 step program. But there’s nothing wrong with a crutch. Life is burdensome and we often require help and assistance in some way to overcome them. We were not meant to carry our burdens alone. In fact, people were designed for community. That’s why the 12 step program can be helpful. Medicine is another valuable tool that can also be beneficial to those who feel they want and need it. Is it a crutch? Yes! But it’s a necessary one.
Can MATs be Combined with the 12 Step Program and/or Other Treatment Programs?
Absolutely yes! In fact, we strongly recommend using any and every available recovery tool at your disposal. But be careful. It’s often advised not to mention you are on any medicine assisted treatment at 12 step meetings because you may be quickly discouraged and advised to stop using medication. What’s more, those advising patients to stop taking their medication are typically not medical professionals nor are they licensed counselors.
Dangers of Advising “Matters” to Stop Their Use of MATs Like Methadone, Suboxone and Naltrexone
There is plenty of research and statistical evidence demonstrating the success of medicine assisted treatments in conquering heroin addiction. Many people feel they need that additional assistance to reduce withdrawal and cravings while they learn to make better lifestyle choices and reinvent themselves. Thus, advising anyone to stop using medication prematurely could have detrimental effects and could cause someone in recovery to relapse, which can lead to overdose and death. So unless a medical professional who knows and understands your individual biological and psychological makeup, be cautious about taking advice to stop taking your medicine.
Judging What Really Works The Right Way
People typically turn to their own personal experiences or quote the experiences of those they know to determine what’s true and try to convince others they are right. But while one’s own experience may be valid for them, experiences are different for everyone. So how does one conclude what works and what doesn’t? There are 2 ways to judge if something is true or not.
1. Find Clinical Studies / Scientific Evaluation – Have any studies been conducted? If so, what are the variables and what are the results? Are there any contradictory studies?
2. Evaluate a Multitude of Experiences Not Just Your Own – if someone else’s experience is different than yours, than your experience can’t be 100% true. Are all experiences exactly the same? Then there’s a pretty good chance you are right
Given that clinical research demonstrates statistical evidence that MATs work for percentage of people and are proven more effective than going cold turkey, then one must determine that MATs at least work for some people. Given that many have shared both positive and negative experiences with various MATs, one must conclude that MATs at least work for some people. The same applies to the 12 step program.
Each individual’s genetic and psychological makeup is unique and as a result, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating heroin addiction. The 12 steps is an excellent program but it’s not for everyone. Medicine Assisted Treatment is a lifesaver but it doesn’t work for all. What works for some doesn’t work for everyone.
Written and Published by,
William – Publisher and Founder of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™