Newswise — For those struggling with opioid addiction, it is a constant battle to feel well. To better serve patients with this medical condition, the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone have developed and expanded their capacity to provide treatment through its Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) Program.

MAT helps people who are dependent on opioids, including prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and fentanyl, as well as heroin, using an FDA-approved medication called buprenorphine (also known by the street term “bupe”). It effectively helps patients with opioid use disorder by easing withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings, making it possible to reduce or quit a drug habit.

Opioids have a powerful effect on the brain.  Most significantly, they alter reward pathways in the brain which, in turn, promote cravings for more opioids.

“Most patients who are opioid-dependent continue to use not for the euphoric feeling they get from the drug, but because they want to curtail how they feel when they do not have the drug,” said Anthony J. Accurso, MD, an addiction medicine specialist at the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone.  “Life becomes a daily pursuit to obtain enough opioid to not feel sick from withdrawal.”

Most patients with opioid disorder who begin treatment on buprenorphine report feeling ‘normal,’ not high, and not in withdrawal, Accurso says.

The opioid crisis has devastated families and communities across the globe.  Here in the U.S., The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2.1 million people have opioid use disorder, and on average, 130 people die each day from opioid overdose.

The Road to Recovery

“Will power is not enough,” said an office administrator enrolled in the MAT Program, who asked not to be identified. Her initiation into opioids began with a prescription to relieve excruciating pain from a broken toe. After her toe healed, she would occasionally take a pill recreationally -- until she reached the point of needing drugs just to get through her day. After years of struggle and denial, she decided to get help.

“Seeking treatment often is the option of last resort, when the user is totally exhausted and ‘tired of being tired,’” says Accurso, who taught high school science before pursuing a career as a doctor.

“Students and patients respond well when they believe a caregiver has their best interest at heart,” he said. “Detoxing and withdrawing is difficult. It is important to respond to an individual at whatever state he or she may be at.”

Finding a provider who can prescribe buprenorphine also can be very difficult. Federal law requires clinicians to complete additional training and waivers to prescribe it to patients.  To help solve this issue, the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone has created a MAT Warmline referral system (646-906-2685), a unique program that can guide patients and emergency departments to physicians qualified to prescribe buprenorphine and naltrexone, another drug used to treat opioid use disorder. An appointment can usually be arranged within a few days.

“A referral for opioid dependence treatment can also come from a member of the family, a concerned friend, neighbor, co-worker or a casual acquaintance,” said April Kramer-Scanio, RN, who answers the MAT Warmline. “Deciding to get help is an important step. It is very gratifying when you can help a person toward a path to recovery.”

“The Family Health Centers have long been committed to primary care for all patients. Expanding our capacity to treat opioid use disorder allows our patients to get their medical care and treatment for opioid dependence in the same place,” said Isaac Dapkins, MD, medical director of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone.

The New York State Department of Health’s fact sheet on buprenorphine provides information about the medication.

For help with opioid addiction and more information about the Medications Assisted Treatment program, call the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone Warmline at (646)-906-2685.