What is Opioid Agonist Treatment?

April 10, 2019. Article by: Government of BC

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a medical condition that can be treated. OUD is characterized by addiction to opioids such as Percocet, OxyContin, heroin or fentanyl. There are many forms of treatment available for OUD.  Opioid agonist treatment (OAT) is the first-line recommended option, which means that it is usually the first medical treatment a healthcare professional will prescribe for someone diagnosed with OUD. 

For people living with opioid use disorder, OAT can be an effective way to avoid the acute symptoms of opioid withdrawal and find a pathway to hope and healing.

How does OAT work?

OAT works by replacing short-acting opioids with longer-acting opioid medication. The two most commonly-used OAT medications are methadone and buprenorphine/naloxone. These medications do not result in a high. They affect the body more slowly and for longer than other opioids such as heroin and oxycodone.

When taken as prescribed, OAT medication prevents opioid withdrawal symptoms for 24-36 hours and helps eliminate cravings for opioid drugs. In contrast, heroin withdrawal can include intense cravings and sets in 6-12 hours after taking the substance.

What are the benefits of OAT?

One of the main benefits of OAT is how the medication is taken. Methadone comes in the form of a drink. Suboxone –  the type of buprenorphine/naloxone most commonly used for addiction treatment – is a pill that dissolves when placed under the tongue. As these medications are taken orally, OAT helps people avoid the harms associated with inhaling or injecting drugs, such as respiratory damage or the risk of blood-borne infections.

Since OAT medications act slowly in the body, many people living with OUD can manage their opioid withdrawal symptoms more effectively with OAT than if they just stopped using short-acting opioids.

This treatment is one way people with OUD can find stability, work towards recovery, or manage their opioid use long-term. It reduces the possibility of people overdosing or dying from opioid use and can improve the health and well-being of people living with OUD and their families.

OAT isn’t for everyone – different people have different journeys of healing and recovery. If you are experiencing opioid use disorder, a doctor can help you decide what treatment is right for you and provide an OAT referral if appropriate.

Learn more about Opioid Agonist Treatment.

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