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Therapy can help patients with opioid use disorders stay in treatment programs, Rutgers study says

Patients who receive therapy during opioid abuse disorder treatment programs are more likely to complete their treatments, according to a new Rutgers study. – Photo by Christina Victoria Craft / Unsplash

A recent Rutgers study concluded that patients who receive psychosocial and behavioral therapy have a lower risk of dropping out of opioid abuse disorder treatment programs, according to a press release.

Hillary Samples, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said that two goals for her research were to improve understanding of current practices and determine if therapy is effective in keeping patients in medication treatment programs. 

Though it has been previously proven that medication is the most effective treatment for opioid addiction, not much is currently known about the effects of therapy, she said.

“There is very little evidence on the relationship between therapy and medication treatment duration,” Samples said. “Filling gaps in the literature is crucial for improving access to evidence-based treatment.”

She said that she was also interested in conducting the study in order to investigate prior knowledge in regard to how therapy affects patients remaining in medication treatment programs.

“Clinical trials generally show that therapy offers no additional benefit to patients beyond medication treatment,” she said. “Yet, many treatment providers believe therapy is important, especially as a way to help keep patients in treatment.”

The study’s participants consisted of patients who received buprenorphine, the most commonly prescribed medication for opioid addiction recovery that alleviates withdrawal symptoms for patients newly stopping opioid use, Samples said.

Researchers observed patterns of therapy during the first six months of patients starting medication, specifically because that period of time is strongly associated with patients stopping medication and relapsing into opioid abuse, she said. 

Samples said that the team was interested in the association between the length of medication treatment and therapy in order to see whether therapy could help ensure that patients continue to take the medication while in recovery.

The final results of the study ultimately found that the majority of patients who do receive medication treatment for opioid addiction do not attend psychosocial or behavioral therapy. Those patients that do attend therapy tend to have more mental health and substance abuse problems, according to the study.

Most significantly, the study found that patients who receive therapy have a lower rate of dropping out of medication treatment compared to patients who do not receive therapy, Samples said.

She said the study concluded that patients should receive therapy in conjunction with medication treatment to increase their chances of continuing treatment overall.

These results are especially important for patients who do not yet have effective medication options, she said, because therapy could help alleviate symptoms of opioid abuse that are unaffected by traditional medications. 

“We found that therapy was more common for patients with mental health and substance use problems, including addiction to drugs without effective medication treatment options,” Samples said. “These patients could be a priority group for therapy services, which may help to address symptoms that medication for opioid addiction does not treat.”

She said research in this area of study will only grow as there are even more avenues to be discovered in helping patients find the right treatment plan for them.

“While medication is a highly effective treatment for opioid addiction, many people drop out of treatment too early,” Samples said. “It is important to continue working to identify strategies that can help keep people on medication long enough to benefit from treatment.”


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