AL: New opioid treatment rules ignite controversy

AL.com News –

There’s a fight brewing in Alabama over how doctors administer one of the most effective forms of treatment for opioid addiction.

It’s called medication assisted treatment, known as MAT, which is a form of addiction treatment that combines counseling with doctor-prescribed medication. People with opioid use disorder who receive MAT are less likely to die of overdose or use illicit opioids, according to the USDA.

Access to opioid addiction treatment is particularly important in Alabama, which has the highest opioid prescription rate in the nation and has shown a significant increase in drug overdose death rates, according to the CDC.

A group of Alabama medical professionals has drafted statewide rules they say are needed to keep MAT providers from becoming the next generation of pill mills.

But another group of doctors says those same restrictions will reduce access to MAT and send addicts back to the streets, leading to more overdose deaths.

The winner of the fight could determine the future for Alabamians like Victor Wood.

“(Addiction) turned me into something I never dreamed I would be,” said Wood, 32, who lives in Gulf Shores. He credits MAT with giving him his life back after more than a decade spent in active addiction. Except for one brief relapse when he switched doctors, he said, he’s been clean for three years with MAT.

“I went from having nothing to running two businesses,” he said. “I thank God, my wife and my doctor for that.”

What’s MAT?

Patients who undergo MAT therapy for opioid use disorder must visit a doctor or mid-level provider who has gotten federal approval to prescribe MAT medication. The doctor or provider gives the patient an assessment and determines the combination of counseling and medication that will best help the person recover from addiction and remain sober.

The patient then visits the MAT provider on a regular basis, such as weekly or monthly, for counseling and doses of medication.

One of the increasingly popular medications used with MAT is buprenorphine, a low-level opioid designed to block cravings without getting the user high in the way methadone can. It’s better known under brand names like Suboxone and Subutrex.

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