Explained: How medication-assisted treatment works for opioid addiction

The investigation into what may have caused Prince's death last month has focused on the role prescription painkillers may have played.

The office for the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday offered Carver County investigators their expertise in investigating prescription drug diversion. And an attorney for a California doctor, Dr. Howard Kornfeld, has come forward to say that he was trying to help the musician with drug addiction when he died.

Kornfeld has been known for providing medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, which has become more common as more people sought treatment for opioid addiction.

Chuck Hilger, vice president with Meridian Behavioral Health in New Brighton, said his company provides treatment counseling and medication-assisted treatment to about 900 patients.

"Medication-assisted treatment is basically a way to stabilize people who are addicted to opiates using another opioid, but one whose effects normalizes or stabilizes a person's physical state," Hilger said.

Medication-assisted treatments includes drugs like buprenorphine, an opioid partial agonist with less potential for misuse than prescription opioid painkillers.

In recent years, medications like buprenorphine have been offered by treatment centers that traditionally focused on abstinence-only treatment options.

"The model for addiction has gone to a medical model now, it's not traditionally like it's been a moral model or moral failing," Hilger said. "Recovery is now more individually based. You get to define how your recovery looks like, you get to define how you get there."

Although Minnesota is home to many addiction medicine doctors who can prescribe the medicines, Hilger said, doctors still have to jump through some regulatory hoops to prescribe it.

"There's a real challenge right now with the number of doctors who are prescribing it or can prescribe it," Hilger said. "In order to prescribe buprenorphine, you need to have a federal waiver or federal approval, and there's a limited number of doctors who have gone out and got that waiver."

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