Explaining The Difference between the Terms Medication Supported Recovery and Medication Assisted Treatment
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a well-known term in the addiction recovery field that pertains to the use of specific medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, to help individuals recovering from opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder avoid reoccurrence of use. Medication intervention is not appropriate for all patients, but in cases where it is indicated, it has proven beneficial. It can help to keep people engaged in treatment, it can reduce illicit substance use, and, most importantly, it can save lives.
However, when approaching the use of medication for aiding addiction recovery, words matter. That is, the actual words used in defining the use of medications as a treatment element are meaningful in a deeper sense, one that can actually shape expectations and attitudes. As addiction recovery specialists, do we aim to “assist treatment” or do we want to “support recovery?”
Medication Supported Recovery
At Ashley Addiction Treatment, we use the term Medication Supported Recovery (MSR). Much more than simply parsing words, by shifting the purpose of medical intervention toward supporting recovery it, in essence, reframes the goal of MAT. In using the term “MSR” at Ashley, perspective is shifted from viewing medication as merely assisting treatment toward becoming an inherent component of the recovery process. This mindset aligns more with the continuing care aspects of the recovery journey, those critical aftercare services that reinforce and solidify sustained recovery. MSR does not refer only to medications used to treat substance use disorders, but encompasses any medication that aids in the recovery process.
There is no disputing the dire situation our nation is facing with regard to opioid addiction and the astronomical levels of overdose fatalities that have resulted in recent years. In addition, morbidity and mortality associated with alcohol consumption remains unacceptably high and is increasing with stimulant misuse. Relapse rates and readmission to treatment programs provide the warning signs to indicate that we have to consider all pathways to recovery.
If recovery can be supported through the use of medications such as buprenorphine and naltrexone, why not integrate these drugs into the overall recovery strategy? MSR will be used as an adjunct to, not as a substitute for, evidence-based recovery programming. Medications are tools that help people complete their treatment program, acquire new information, establish and improve relationships, and become solidly involved in recovery. We know that mutual support programs (including 12-Step programs) can help people who are struggling with any kind of addiction. We also know that some of these people need additional help to begin their path to abstinence and life-long recovery. Medications can ease withdrawal, reduce cravings, and allow people to live, engage in treatment, and grow into a good program of recovery. At Ashley, our program uses a three-pronged approach that includes the science of medicine, the art of therapy, and the compassion of spirituality. Our philosophy is rooted in the belief that true, authentic change can only happen when all aspects of the person are synced. We use the least restrictive level of care and use medication to maximize each individual’s human potential, while keeping every person engaged at their level of readiness.
Eliminating the Stigma
Eliminating the stigma around using medication as an essential recovery tool that will help open up avenues for individuals seeking to reclaim a fulfilling, productive life. MSR can help keep people engage in aftercare programs, as stakeholders in their own recovery, resulting in improvements in relationships, career and academic prospects, and emotional wellbeing. Together with ongoing counseling and peer support, MSR is a valuable instrument that supports those in early recovery to experience renewed hope in finding purpose and value in life.
About the Author
Dr. Greg Hobelmann currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer of Ashley Addiction Treatment. In this role, he oversees the medical and nursing staff for both the inpatient and outpatient clinics. He previously served as a staff psychiatrist after completing his psychiatry residency at Johns Hopkins. He has also completed an anesthesiology residency and pain medicine fellowship at Johns Hopkins in 2006 and has a Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His treatment interests include addiction and chronic pain. Prior to arrival at Ashley, he worked as an interventional pain specialist.