Should patients in drug treatment need to go through counseling?

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require every patient who’s receiving medication-assisted treatment for addiction to also go through counseling.

Medication-assisted treatment uses drugs like Vivitrol, Suboxone and methadone to curb the symptoms of opioid or alcohol withdrawal.

“Providing counseling in conjunction with MAT is imperative for sustained, long-term recovery,” Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said in a statement. “Simply replacing one drug with another does not treat the ‘whole person,’ nor does it break the cycle of drug abuse or change patterns of risky behavior.”

The proposed legislation, House Bill 2130, would also have the state departments of health, human services and drug and alcohol programs collaborate to form a set of guidelines for the medication-assisted treatment. Prescribers would be penalized if they do not verify that their patients are receiving the mandated counseling before writing or filling prescriptions, according to the release.

“If we want those in treatment to have a full recovery, we must provide them with more than medication. We must also provide them with the tools necessary to rebuild their mental and emotional well-being, establish healthy relationships and maintain progress in recovery,” Benninghoff said.

Brian Stoesz, CEO of the Pennsylvania division of Summit Behavioral Healthcare, said he agrees that people who take part in medication-assisted treatment need to have some adjunct counseling services.

St. Joseph Institute for Addiction in Port Matilda, which is a site of Summit BHC, doesn’t use medication-assisted treatment and instead utilizes treatments that put all the focus on counseling and getting to the root of the addiction, Stoesz said. However, St. Joseph does use Suboxone but for the initial detox process, which takes three to seven days.

“If you just use medication without any counseling, you’re really not getting to the core of the situation,” he said, “so with counseling attached to the medication, the person has a fighting chance to drill down into what are some of the more deeper-seeded reasons for their substance abuse.”

He said that there are certainly people who benefit from medication-assisted treatment, but it’s rarely the best option. Drugs like Suboxone can be abused and oftentimes people can become dependent and have a hard time getting off of them, Stoesz said. Medication-assisted treatment ideally lasts anywhere from six months to two years, Stoesz said, but he’s seen people who have been on Suboxone for six-plus years.

“You gotta replace the negative with something positive, or otherwise you have a void,” he said. “We put a lot of energy into identifying strengths that people have, most people who are substance addicted are really high achievers and they have a lot on the ball, so we try to harness a lot of that stuff.”

With the greater amount of attention on the opioid epidemic in the United States, Stoesz says the stigma surrounding addiction is beginning to erode and people are starting to see that addiction affects all types of people.