New studies continue to make the case that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the most effective intervention for people recovering from opioid use disorder (OUD). At least two were published in major journals within the past month.
The findings show that MAT leads to increased quality of life, employment rates, treatment effectiveness and medication satisfaction for patients with OUD. On top of that, they support the notion that the longer someone with OUD receives MAT treatment, the better.
The first study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
To reach their findings, researchers analyzed the progress and outcomes of 412 participants receiving buprenorphine extended-release injections over the course of up to 12 months. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 65, with the average participant age being 38.4.
MAT combines medication and counseling to treat both the behavioral and physical parts of addiction. Buprenorphine is a common medication used for MAT.
Researchers found that 88% of participants reported medication satisfaction at the end of the study. On top of that, the group of participants saw an overall employment increase of 7%, in addition to improved or stable quality of life and treatment effectiveness.
“These findings also show that patient-centered outcomes that can be measured during office visits may help clinicians assess their patient’s improvement,” researchers Christian Heidbreder, who is chief scientific officer of Indivior, said in a press release announcing the news.
Chesterfield, Virginia-based Indivior, who funded the study, is a pharmaceutical company that specializes in the treatment of opioid addiction.
However, the findings aren’t all good. About half of the participants discontinued MAT treatment before the end of the study. These patients either withdrew their consent, were lost to follow-up or ceased treatment for some other reason.
The second study came out of the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
It found that people recovering from OUD may need to continue receiving MAT treatment for years, “if not indefinitely,” according to the researchers.
“Many clinicians think they should prescribe buprenorphine only for time-limited periods, due to stigma and outdated beliefs that patients using medications for OUD are not in ‘true recovery,’” Arthur Robin Williams, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, said in a press release. “Our paper is one of the first to look at the effect of long-term durations of buprenorphine treatment on subsequent outcomes.”
To reach their findings, researchers examined the Medicaid claims data of nearly 9,000 patients between ages 18 and 64 who received continual MAT treatment for six to 18 months.
The paper concludes that the longer patients continue MAT treatment, the lower their risk of adverse outcomes.
In fact, short-term MAT recipients are far more likely to overdose after they cease treatment, the researchers found. And across the board, one in 20 people were treated for opioid overdose in the six months after stopping treatment, regardless of treatment duration.
Those findings suggest MAT services should be continued long-term, as previous studies suggest the risk of dying by opioid overdose drops by up to 70% while receiving buprenorphine treatment.
“Patients and families need guidance, social support and better coordination of care to help facilitate long-term maintenance with buprenorphine for opioid use disorder,” Williams said in the press release.