What We Know About Medication-Assisted Treatment
Vertava Health’ Vice President of Compliance breaks it down
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 18, 2017) – A firestorm debate between recovery advocates is taking place after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s controversial comments regarding medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
“If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much,” Price told the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia where he was meeting with state officials about efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic there.
Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy quickly took Price to task on Twitter, stating “Science, not opinion, should guide our recommendations and policies.”
HHS spokeswoman Alleigh Marre has since rejected Murthy’s criticism, saying, “This whole narrative is not based in fact,” and “One of the Secretary’s five pillars for combatting the opioid epidemic is expanding access to treatment and recovery services, including medication-assisted treatment.”
The comments were still strong enough that over 700 recovery advocates signed a letter asking Price to clarify his comments publicly. To help us sort out this debate and find out what exactly is Vertava Health’ policy on medically assisted treatment, we sat down with someone on the front lines of the topic.
“For many folks, it is very effective and can be life-saving,” says Vertava Health Vice President of Compliance Maeve O’Neill. “Research has shown MAT to be effective about two-thirds of the time when used in combination with other therapies, as stated by the former Surgeon General.”
O’Neill went on to say that we know medication-assisted treatment has saved many lives, and it’s imperative that we continue investing in resources for further research by demonstrating the evidence that they are effective as we continue to fight the stigma surrounding it.
So what is it?
Medication-assisted treatment is the standard of care for folks struggling with opioid addiction. They are medications taken along with therapy and treatment to manage withdrawal and cravings.
“When medically managed and monitored as part of treatment, it is better than misusing prescription or illicit opioids,” says O’Neill. “Folks can live productive and safer lives while getting care they need and deserve.”
Studies show MAT helps reduce relapse and keeps people engaged in treatment longer. O’Neill says she has personally seen it save many lives and to be the one missing piece of treatment that works in some cases.
“Research gaps that address stigma and how to change public perception would be helpful,” says O’Neill. “The combination of psychotherapy with those who are prescribed MAT is critical. Medication assisted treatment without therapy is not enough support and therapy without MAT causes more suffering than necessary and makes relapse more likely in some cases.”
The comments by Price are very disappointing for many in the recovery community. When medication-assisted treatment is provided including medications, counseling and social support services, it is safe and effective. The danger lies in overuse and misuse without therapy as its companion.
Vertava Health has seen it widely misused, and even treated clients for Suboxone addiction. O’Neill says the answer is a healthy balance. No one belongs on the drugs forever, but some extreme cases of addiction need it.
O’Neill says the effects and outcomes of drugs like methadone, naltrexone, vivitrol, suboxone and buprenorphine are similar. Vertava Health prescribes all except methadone because it falls in a different Drug Enforcement Agency class.
“His comments add to the stigma and take us back years in what we have learned about brain science and effective treatments,” says O’Neill. “It is important that insurance companies and Medicaid cover MAT.”
Vertava Health is committed to providing our clients with safe, quality treatment which includes medication assisted treatment when indicated. We want our clients to be free from addiction for a lifetime and want them to get the best of all possible options for long term recovery, which for some may include MAT.
For more information and to look at the research regarding MAT, visit SAMHSA.gov.
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Vertava Health Vice President of Compliance Maeve O’Neill, MEd, LCDC, LPC-S, CDWF comes to us with a wealth of knowledge and experience in addiction treatment. She works directly with Chief Clinical Officer Toril Newman to manage and direct all company efforts relating to standard of care, guidelines and regulations for all campuses across the country. Maeve is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor with expertise as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and a Masters Degree in Education with a Counseling and Development specialization. After working almost 20 years in behavioral health in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas, she moved to Texas in 2006. O’Neill has been married to her husband Dave for over 17 years and has two children: 14-year-old Aidan and 11-year-old Delaney, both who keep her inspired to do more daily. Maeve is a Certified Daring Way Facilitator and has developed a professional model specifically for behavioral healthcare based on a researched curriculum called BHForce-Transforming Behavioral Health workFORCE, focused on ethics, teamwork and organizational culture. As a former Behavioral Health Surveyor for The Joint Commission, O’Neill has a long career committed to excellence.