Opioid Use Disorder and Medication Assisted Treatment
The following article was published in Rolling Thunder on June 7, 2021 and is part of an ongoing series of articles related to our opioid grant work with the community.
Thanks to a federal grant through the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, Medication Assisted Treatment is now available at Northern Light Primary Care in Pittsfield. Referred to as MAT for short, the treatment uses medications in combination with co-occurring substance use counseling to treat opioid use disorder.
Jean Antonucci, MD, is a board-certified family physician and Medication Assisted Treatment provider with the medical practice in Pittsfield. She shares her expertise about opioid addiction and the importance of MAT in this special article.
Many of us have heard about, or been touched by, the opioid crisis. My goal is to help our community understand substance use disorder and how treatment using medications can make a difference in a person’s life.
It’s important to begin with an understanding of what addiction is. Addiction is the use of a substance despite it causing harm. Some examples of this harm include: you can’t keep a job or lost your driver’s license - but you keep using the substance despite harm to your life, and you can’t stop - or even cut down - and spend a lot of time trying to find another dose. This is addiction, also called substance use disorder.
Why can’t people just quit? Because using substances creates permanent changes in the brain that cause addiction. After many years of treating addiction, I have found this is the simplest way to describe it. The brain has receptors like locks, or the ignition in your car. When you put the key in, you can unlock the doors and start the car. In the brain, when the opioid or other substance attaches to the receptor, it is turned on. It may help the pain you took it for, but it can also release pleasure chemicals that can make some people feel high or euphoric.
Some people are more likely to become addicted, but anyone is at risk because addiction doesn’t discriminate by age, gender, or socioeconomic status. When someone is using a non-medical opioid like heroin, the released pleasure chemicals are extremely strong and make people want to use again to feel that good again; however, after a while it takes more and more of the drug to get the chemicals released. When there is no drug, those receptors stay turned on and will send out signals to the whole body and cause bone pain, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. This is called withdrawal and is incredibly miserable.
The person seeks out more opioids (narcotics) to avoid withdrawal and they are stuck in a cycle of misuse. One can’t just use willpower to stop; once people are addicted, brain changes are largely permanent and, like any chronic disease, requires doctor visits, medication, and lifestyle modifications.
So how can we help? We have medications that will fit into that brain lock and reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms. The most effective medication is Suboxone, which sticks to the brain receptor better than any narcotic. It’s important to note that using an FDA-approved treatment medicine like Suboxone does not trade one addiction for another. Suboxone does not produce a high feeling like opioids do and the withdrawal symptoms are avoided. This allows the person to be comfortable and focus on rebuilding their life.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call Northern Light Primary Care in Pittsfield at 207.487.5154.
Dr. Antonucci is part of the Sebasticook Valley Opioid Response Network, a coalition of community partners working to address barriers to prevention, treatment, and recovery. Partners include: Hometown Health Center; Kennebec Behavioral Health; Pittsfield Police Department; RSU #19 (Newport, Hartland, St. Albans, Palmyra); TeamHealth; Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital; Northern Light Acadia Hospital; and Northern Light Health.