Opioid Epidemic Rages On – Stats and Medication-Assisted Treatment

Opioid epidemic man huddled on the floor

Loneliness is a profound challenge for individuals with opioid use disorders.

After the daily conversation about the opioid epidemic during the pandemic, the fewness of media features in recent months might lead one to believe the problem has lessened. However, overdose deaths spiked 30% between 2019 and 2020, rose another 15% between 2021 and 2022 and continue to rise. There were 111,355 overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in April 2023 (based on CDC data available for analysis on February 4, 2024). Nearly 70% of overdose deaths involved fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.


Opioid Epidemic

Strides have been made in the years since the pandemic. Certainly, we are aware of the potential for addiction to prescribed opioids. Naloxone (or Narcan, a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose) is readily available in pharmacies. It is also often available free of charge from local health and community-based programs or local health departments. In fact, the CDC recommends co-prescription of Naloxone for some patients who take opioids for pain. Why are opioid overdoses and deaths still on the rise? According to the World Health Organization, it is “..in part due to the increased availability of opioids used in the management of chronic pain, and also due to increasing use of highly potent opioids appearing on the illicit drug market.”


 Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) – the Gold Standard

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a highly effective approach to treating substance use disorders. As a response to the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic, MAT protocols were developed to serve as an adjunct to evidence-based addiction treatment.  At Sanford Behavioral Health, our MAT program (begun in 2019) incorporates a 12-step methodology, whole-body wellness, and the family’s vital role in its treatment approach. We offer patients access to a comprehensive MAT program incorporating medication, therapy, and support services. Our medication-assisted treatment in Marne, Michigan (Greater Grand Rapids), utilizes FDA-approved drugs.


MAT helps patients get through the discomfort of opioid withdrawal, and it also helps to reduce drug cravings. MAT is primarily used for the treatment of addiction to opioids and alcohol. The prescribed medication normalizes brain chemistry, blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, and relieves physiological cravings. Recovery from addiction is a process, and the medicines give our patients time to work on recovery without unnecessary discomfort.



The MAT approach has been shown to:

  • Improve patient outcomes
  • Reduce cravings
  • Increase retention in treatment
  • Decrease illicit opiate use
  • Increase patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment
  • Improve birth outcomes among women who have substance use disorders and are pregnant

A medication-assisted treatment program allows patients to improve overall health and decrease the potential for overdose and other dangerous consequences of substance use disorders.


Medications Used for MAT

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization all recognize medication-assisted treatment as the “gold standard” of opioid addiction treatment.  President Biden’s 2024 FY Budget for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration proposes $10.8 billion for several evidence-based prevention and treatment programs, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT) such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naloxone. The FDA has approved, and Sanford Behavioral Health prescribes the following medications for our medication-assisted treatment programs:

  • Naloxone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone

These medications alleviate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and block the effects of opioids. Our medical team prescribes medications, which are administered under supervision in a controlled setting.


Services Provided in MAT

Our medical services are psychiatrist-led, with 24-hour support for all residential patients. All levels of care include on-site supervision by medical doctors with specialties in psychiatry and addictionology, advanced practice providers, registered nurses, and registered dietitians. The medical services that we provide to patients in the MAT program can include the following:

  • Screening and orientation to treatment
  • Multidisciplinary diagnostic assessments and exams
  • Follow-up medical exams
  • Medication administration
  • Group therapy meetings
  • Weekly individual and family therapy sessions
  • Drug testing and breathalyzer tests
  • A structured daily check-in with staff
  • Crisis safety planning
  • Aftercare planning and referrals, including 12-step meetings
  • Treatment planning
  • Case management services


rock and sand depicting self-care


Continuum of Care at Sanford Behavioral Health

Medication-assisted treatment is not a replacement for traditional therapy and counseling but rather an additional tool to support recovery. The medication helps to alleviate cravings and the physical symptoms of withdrawal, allowing patients to focus on their behavioral health needs and build a foundation for long-term sobriety.


“Loneliness and perceived social isolation are profound challenges for communities struggling with addiction, including opioid use disorders. I had no real background in these issues when I started as Surgeon General in 2014…It’s a common stressor, especially for those who struggle with opioid use disorders. Stress can be a trigger for relapse. It’s also connected with overdose attempts and overdose deaths.” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General


At Sanford Behavioral Health, we recognize the importance of a long-term continuum of treatment programs, classes, resources, and community outreach. Successful treatment of substance use disorders typically requires continual evaluation and adjustments, similar to the approach taken for other conditions. Our medication-assisted treatment programs are just one step on the journey to long-term recovery. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 844-776-9654 to learn more about our medication-assisted treatment options.


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit www.sanfordbehavioralhealth.com.