Patients receiving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combined with counseling for opioid use disorder (OUD) see significant improvements – not only in drug-use reduction, but also in mental health, legal issues and interpersonal relationships.
That’s according to a new white paper from Baymark Health Services, which found that illicit drug use decreases by 65% over the first three months of MAT. Drug use continues to decrease by an additional 23% over a full course of treatment, though, patients who use fentanyl experience less favorable outcomes.
Lewisville, Texas-based BayMark bills itself as North America’s largest MAT provider, with more than 400 treatment centers offering services including withdrawal management, partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) and counseling.
Opioid overdoses led to more than 80,000 reported deaths in 2021, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That number is a dramatic increase from a decade prior. In 2010, opioid overdoses were responsible for just over 21,000 deaths.
Research suggests that MAT, when combined with additional education and support, saves lives and is associated with significant health benefits and cost savings.
Baymark’s report utilized data from approximately 39,000 patients enrolled in the company’s outpatient OUD treatment programs since 2020. The average length of stay for newly admitted patients within the dataset was 1.5 years. Patients actively enrolled in treatment had spent an average of 3.2 years in treatment.
The report found that patients experienced a 32% reduction in substance use-related problems. These problems were measured using common assessments, including the Addiction Severity Index, in which patients self-report alcohol and illicit drug use and related factors.
Of the sampled patients, 18% reported using illicit opioids within the last month, with an average of two grams of opioids used daily for an average of nine days per month.
Along with improved substance use-related problems, sampled patients experienced improvements in health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, mental health and physical health. Patients’ mental and physical health continued to improve over the course of two years.
Baymark’s findings are complicated by widespread fentanyl use.
Baymark implemented fentanyl testing across all its clinics within the past year. Among patients in their first three months of treatment, 62% of all urine tests were positive for the drug.
Patients who use fentanyl have less favorable treatment outcomes, the study found, and spent almost 50% fewer days in treatment. They are also admitted with more severe mental and physical health conditions and have higher rates of polysubstance use.
Baymark experimented with higher doses of methadone in an effort to improve outcomes for patients who use fentanyl. Preliminary analyses found improved retention and reduced fentanyl use among patients who received the higher dose.
Retention rates hit 77%, which is 7% higher than the overall year-to-date retention. Patients who received the higher dose had significantly fewer drug tests that were positive for fentanyl.
The higher-acuity problems associated with fentanyl use are evidence for the use of MAT, the report’s authors said.
“Use of MAT and the comprehensive care offered by specialized OUD treatment facilities is more important than ever given the proliferation of fentanyl and other potent synthetic opioids,” the study’s authors said.