By Elizabeth Hensold, Peoria City/County Health Department
Millions of Americans are struggling with the disease of substance use disorder and suffering in silence. Right here in Central Illinois, we see individuals with anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health conditions which can lead to misuse of illegal as well as legal opioids. People do not just wake up one day and develop issues with substance use. It usually happens over time and develops out of many compounding factors. Substance use is often a way of self-medicating to treat those underlying disorders.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that in 2019 14.5 million Americans ages 12 and older suffered from Alcohol Use Disorder. Approximately 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related deaths annually. Likewise, an estimated 2 million Americans according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have Opioid Use Disorder from either the use of prescription pain medication or heroin.
Substance use and the stress and uncertainty of everyday life during trying times have increased the demand for substance use support services. The MAT program is one program being used in our area to help. Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT combines the use of behavioral health counseling with medication to treat Opioid Use Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder. Medications help with withdrawal symptoms and counseling helps with recovery. When we help people develop better coping skills and provide a safe place to talk about their mental well-being, we can help to heal the whole person.
Who Is appropriate for MAT?
Patients who meet criteria for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Symptoms may include a strong desire to use opioids or alcohol. A tolerance to these substances, require you to increase your use. Withdrawal symptoms when not using opioids or alcohol. If you think that you might be experiencing any of these, it is important to speak with your doctor.
What Medications Are Approved for MAT?
For Alcohol Use Disorder- Acamprosate (oral), disulfiram (oral), and naltrexone (oral of injection).
For Opioid Use Disorder- Buprenorphine (oral or injection), methadone (oral), naltrexone (injection).
These commonly used medications are a valuable treatment tool and have proven to be safe to use for months or even years.
Why Does Counseling Matter in MAT?
MAT aims to treat the whole patient by providing help for both the emotional and psychological effects of substance use, as well as the physical symptoms of substance use. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1.27 million Americans are currently receiving MAT services. MAT is not a total cure for these disorders, but there is significant research showing that it can help people effectively reach their recovery goals.
Dispelling some myths:
- MAT is not trading one drug for another. Medications approved for MAT have undergone research and have been shown to provide effective treatment to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms while under the supervision of a medical provider.
- Recovery is not linear. We know that relapse is part of the recovery process and people can still achieve long-term recovery even when they have previously relapsed.
- Isolation is one of the biggest drivers of substance use and people that have support from family and friends are more successful in their recovery.
- Shame is still a huge factor that keeps people from getting the help that they need. Substance use disorders should be viewed by both medical professionals and the general public like any other chronic disease.
It is important to raise awareness and help people know there is both treatment and support for substance use. Local awareness can start at The Opioid Awareness Hub which is a community driven, comprehensive collection of local data and resources in the Tri-county area. Information includes local data on the opioid epidemic, prescribing practices in Illinois, harm reduction services, and other treatment options. For help with obtaining Medication Assisted Treatment contact the Peoria City/County Health Department or visit the website at www.pcchd.org.
Elizabeth Hensold, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Peoria City/County Health Department and provides treatment services for individuals in the Medication Assisted Therapy program.