back to all blog posts
Medication Supported Recovery: A Life-Saving InterventionFriday, September 2, 2022
CCC has offered medication supported recovery since 2013 with a rapid expansion of access in 2017 as one tool to support people in their recovery journeys. In honor of Recovery Month, we sat down with CCC President and CEO Andy Mendenhall, M.D., who is a nationally known expert on medication supported recovery to get the facts on this life-saving intervention.
Q: What is medication supported recovery?
A: Medication supported recovery, also called medication assisted treatment, is one way to support folks with a substance use disorder in becoming more successful and achieving their goals.
Some of the most common tools traditionally used to support folks in their recovery include buprenorphine, acamprosate and naltrexone (all offered at CCC) as well as methadone (not offered at CCC). Sometimes other medicines are used in an off-label fashion, meaning they are not formally indicated by the FDA, however, there has been sufficient research to show that they are beneficial. Those include buproprion to support folks with stimulant use disorder and topiramate to support folks with alcohol use disorder.
Q: How do we know medication supported recovery works?
A: Medication supported recovery has been around as a tool since the 1970s, and is well-studied, with nearly 60 years of evidence proving its efficacy. A study of more than 43,000 Medicaid recipients showed that folks who receive buprenorphine or methadone are eight times more likely to remain abstinent on a month-by-month basis during the first six months of their recovery journey compared to folks not receiving medication. They are five to six times more likely to remain abstinent on a month to month basis over a 36-month period, which was the total length of the study. Medical evidence proves it’s often a life-saving intervention and supports folks into long-term sustainable recovery.
Lisa entered CCC’s Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center in 2016, where she was connected with CCC’s medication supported recovery services. Today, Lisa helps others with substance use disorders as lead peer case manager at CCC’s Blackburn Center.
“When I went to Hooper for the last time, I got connected to outpatient treatment and was able to choose buprenorphine. And with the medication, I wasn’t having cravings. I wasn’t obsessing over using. I was able to go into treatment groups and learn some skills and learn how to become a productive member of society while finding a community of people I could trust and feel safe around. The medication really helped me, especially in early recovery, so I could start to build this life I have now. It’s helped me to just focus on life in recovery, rebuilding relationships, building a career and building a fulfilling life with purpose.
If I didn’t have that medication at the time, I don’t know if I would have been this successful. It helped me put those blinders on so I could focus on my goals. I strongly believe that the medication is a huge component of why I’ve been able to sustain long-term recovery.”
Q: Why is it important to you that CCC offers medication supported recovery?
A: As a physician, I view medication supported recovery as analogous to treating cancer.
If I have access to a treatment eight times more effective and I don’t offer it as a choice for folks to consider, it’s unethical. I would never do that to a cancer patient, nor would I to someone with a substance use disorder. As medical practitioners, it’s our job to ensure that all patients fully understand their treatment options, including the risks, alternatives and benefits. Ultimately, we ensure patient choice by respecting and honoring the autonomy and agency of our patients. Folks deserve to have access to every possible tool to make the recovery journey as safe and successful as possible.
Q: What other supports should be paired with medication supported recovery?
A: Medication will never work a program of recovery for a patient. Medication makes it possible for folks to feel well enough and to break the cycle of craving (also known as salience) that brings folks back to substance use. We strongly encourage folks accessing medication supported recovery to consider formal treatment services and to connect with recovery support in the community. One of the gifts of CCC is we provide environments that support recovery so people can achieve their goals. Sometimes medicine is the key first part in helping someone engage in a recovery journey.
Q: Are people using medication supported recovery considered sober?
A: Yes. Taking a medicine as a medicine, and as prescribed by a medical provider, is not taking a drug. Period.
National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) have all been conducting research and supporting policy and advocacy work to positively change the culture to embrace medication supported recovery as a patient-centered intervention that saves more lives than any other form of recovery service or community-based support program.
There are as many unique recovery pathways as there are individuals. It’s important for us to be inclusive of all these journeys as the opioid, methamphetamine and fentanyl epidemics require us to be as creative as possible. CCC’s mission is to ensure that people have more options to find recovery than they ever have before.
It’s been wonderful to see significant transformation within the recovery community at large. The general trend is that people are becoming more inclusive of folks accessing medication supported recovery. The cultural norms are changing to support the empowerment of patient choice.
Q: How can people access medication supported recovery at CCC?
A: At Blackburn Center, there is walk-in access to medication supported recovery. At Old Town Clinic, an appointment is necessary at this time. While we don’t provide methadone, we can offer a referral to an agency that does. Most folks accessing medication supported recovery at Central City start at Hooper Detoxification Stabilization Center, where folks benefit from our expert withdrawal management program and have the opportunity to stabilize on buprenorphine for opioid use disorder and then continue medication through Hooper with a warm handoff to another treatment provider.
CCC values all approaches to treating substance use disorders. We provide culturally-specific services, outpatient treatment, individual counseling and more.