Methadone vs Suboxone

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Mind-altering substances have been around for thousands of years. Some are sourced from our natural surroundings, and some of them are made by man with the intent to change how the body responds to an outside stimuli or force. Some drugs were originally derived from plants or were similar in chemical composition; however, they were synthetically adapted to address the current desire.

Opioids came from the opium poppy plant and include prescription medications that include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, codeine, fentanyl, and many others. One of the most notorious opioids is heroin. This harsh drug provides effective pain management but offers effects that go far beyond that, such as feelings of euphoria and relaxation, when they are not used in the manner for which they were intended. Opioids are highly addictive substances that bind to opioid receptors in the brain and change the way the body functions with increased dosages. A few medications can be substituted, such as suboxone and methadone, when someone is attempting to replace the effects on the brain until it can return to functioning as before. Even though it looks like a grim diagnosis, there is always help when someone is looking for it!

What is the opioid epidemic?

The opioid epidemic began in the 1990s when medical professionals were under the false belief that opioids were not addictive. After being told this information, an increasing number of pain killer prescriptions were passed given. In the following years, the abuse and deaths from opioid overdoses increased at an alarming rate. Opioids were finally recognized as the problem that they were and have been scaled back in use for situations with moderate to severe pain. Doctors caution their patients as to its addictiveness and generally do not allow them to remain in use for longer than a certain amount of time. Even following doctors’ orders can lead to addiction, so caution must be used.

In 2017, 70,000 drug overdoses were reported, and 68% of those cases were due to both illicit and prescription opioids. Data shows that 128 people die each day in the United States because of their addiction to opioids. The problem is so rampant that many people have either heard of someone or know someone who has become victim to the problem. In prescription opioid abuse alone, it is accompanied by an economic burden of about $78.5 billion annually. This includes loss of productivity, opioid addiction treatment, healthcare, and repercussions in the legal system. However, it is never too late to seek treatment.

What is MAT?

Using both suboxone and methadone to help someone decrease and eliminate their addiction to opioids is part of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. Yes, behavioral therapy has been found to be a highly effective form of treatment for anyone addicted to opioids; however, the best successes have been noted when a program institutes a combination of MAT and psychotherapy. Evidence has shown that those who use MAT are more likely to continue therapy when compared to those who use behavioral therapy alone. Medications that have been the most useful in helping addicts achieve success are methadone and suboxone.

What is methadone?

Methadone itself is indeed an opioid and was designed for use as a pain reliever. It is generally a safer alternative than other opioids but can be addictive; however, it is a strong force in an effective opioid treatment program. It changes how the brain responds to pain so that you do not feel it. It is a more long-term solution because it also works in a slower fashion. It is best used as a solution after surgery, injury, or in a chronic illness. Its benefit as a part of MAT is that it also blocks the euphoric feeling that someone may get when they are using other opioids — including heroin, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, and codeine. When used as part of a treatment program, it lessens the harshness or eliminates the withdrawal symptoms so that detox and recovery are more successful. While doctors may administer it in the chosen program, it also may be necessary to continue taking it up to a year afterwards. Recovering users may need to visit a methadone clinic on a daily basis.

What is suboxone?

Suboxone is also known as buprenorphine and has only been in use since 2002. It is unique in its advantages over methadone, since it accomplishes the same results as its predecessor but will not produce the euphoria associated with opioid abuse. It still blocks the withdrawal symptoms and lessens cravings, but it does not have the abuse potential as methadone. It is also longer acting so may not require a daily dose, making it easier to prescribe. Since  it is unlikely to result in abuse, it also may not require a daily visit to a suboxone clinic like methadone.

What is the difference between suboxone and methadone?

Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist, compared to methadone being a full opioid agonist. It produces less of an effect when it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain. When its use is no longer necessary, there is also less withdrawal symptoms than when methadone is stopped. Despite the risk of abuse in either drug, they are considered the benchmark in opioid use disorder treatment. Unlike methadone, when someone tries to abuse suboxone, it knocks the full opioid out of the brain’s opioid receptors. This is because of its opioid blocking (or opioid antagonist) effects.

Less than one-third of opioid treatment centers use MAT in their programs despite evidence of its efficacy. Knowing the negative aspects, as well as benefits, before choosing a facility can help someone decide that is the appropriate path for them to best achieve sobriety and successfully maintain it. Whether you are looking into a facility because you feel that it is time to regain control of your life or you are a someone looking for the best treatment options for a loved one who has traveled down the path of addiction, MATs that use methadone and suboxone have been shown to be one of the best ways to help someone fight their way back to a fulfilling and happy life.