Fighting Fire with Fire: How Opioids Can Help Treat Opioid Addiction

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is one of the therapies physicians use to manage opioid addiction. Such treatment works best when used in conjunction with counseling (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) and other forms of support, and has proven successful for those facing the most challenging addictions.


The two most common medications prescribed as part of the MAT plan are methadone (Dolophine, Methadose, Intensol, etc.) and buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Butrans, Zubsolv, etc.). Both drugs are opioids and thus carry their own risk of addiction and other adverse effects, but when used properly as part of a coordinated treatment plan, these risks are minimized.


The recognition and treatment of opioid use disorder (or opioid addiction) as a chronic disease is the key to treating the most challenging addiction cases. The use of methadone or buprenorphine can be compared to the use of maintenance drugs to manage other conditions, like diabetes or heart disease. As with these other diseases, it is vital that prescribers accurately identify the patients best suited for using MAT drugs.


When used properly, MAT drugs can help the addicted patient avoid withdrawal symptoms without creating new addiction problems. Methadone and buprenorphine allow the patient to receive the effects of the opioid that previously may have been misused or abused, without experiencing the euphoric rush or “high” associated with it. Another drug used to battle opioid addiction is naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol). By blocking the opioid receptor, the drug deters relapses and prevents patients from feeling “high”; thus, if the previously-abused opioid is taken, it does not elicit its euphoric effects due to the blocking action of the naltrexone.


Regardless of the addiction treatment method chosen, it is clear that careful monitoring, regular physician follow-up, cognitive therapy and strong family/social support systems are the keys to ensuring the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment in helping individuals overcome opioid addiction.