MAT Serves as Lifeline for Patients

Date: 02/26/2019

Medication-Assisted Treatment Serves as Lifeline for Patients at Northern Light Acadia Hospital

As Maine continues to fight the battle against opioid addiction, some clinicians across the state see success with medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which pairs medication such as Suboxone or Methadone to manage withdrawal symptoms with counseling and behavioral therapy.

It’s a combination that can work well for patients struggling with opioid use disorder, depending on the severity of their addiction.

“With addiction, the brain truly becomes dependent on these chemicals instead of making them on its own,” said Courtney Evans, LCPC, a Clinical Counselor at Northern Light Acadia Hospital. “The opioids become wired to the pleasure center of the brain, and the substance is needed to feel normalcy. For some of our patients, they’re at a point where they’re not using to get high but to get by.”

Courtney, who is currently working with about 75 MAT patients, said this approach to treatment can be a last resort for those who have tried – often multiple times – to stop using before. With MAT, patients have the medication to help curb withdrawal symptoms. “It helps with the cravings and the urge to use,” she said. “In the meantime, we can work on their unmet needs, such as helping them find employment or support while they’re in treatment.”

Courtney said part of what makes this approach work for patients is the accessibility of the treatment. “We see our patients in treatment seven days a week, 365 days a year,” she said. “In typical outpatient therapy, we may see patients every single day. It’s not just once a week.”
To be considered for admission in the OHH program, individuals must have a diagnosis of opioid use disorder.  Courtney is one of several clinicians who administer evaluations and risk assessments to determine if patients are candidates for treatment. Additionally, Northern Light Acadia Hospital uses an eight-point list of criteria to guide progression through the treatment course.   “They have to be struggling with opioid use for an extended period, and experiencing withdrawal,” she said.

According to Courtney, it’s also important to evaluate the individual situation of each patient, to ensure they have the proper support systems in place to succeed in their treatment. “We look at what their home life is like,” she said. “Sometimes, they don’t have a home, and they don’t have the stability necessary to be successful.”
Courtney strives to help her patients stay focused.

“These patients are struggling to stay sober and maintain recovery for even just 24 hours,” she said. “They are doing the best they can to maintain sobriety every day, so when our patients have successes, they are the biggest successes. It’s very rewarding.”