Opioid addiction, also known as opioid use disorder, is a chronic illness that affects millions of Americans and their families. Opioid addiction is life-threatening, but it is also treatable.
Three medications — methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), and naltrexone — are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid drug abuse and addiction.
All three medications, while different, have demonstrated benefits, and can help people with OUD achieve addiction recovery.
But some research suggests that certain medication regimens — for example, taking Suboxone, instead of methadone — can be more effective for people with opiate addiction than others.
What Is The Best Treatment For Opioid Addiction?
The most effective treatment known for opioid addiction is what’s known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
This evidence-based treatment involves taking medication, alongside behavioral therapy and addiction counseling, as part of a holistic treatment plan to treat both the mind and body.
Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are three medications approved for this treatment:
Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that can relieve symptoms of opioid withdrawal, reduce opioid drug cravings, and help promote long-term addiction recovery.
This is the oldest of the three medications. As a full opioid agonist, it’s also the most chemically similar to other common opioids of abuse, like oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin.
This doesn’t mean it’s not safe, however, When taken as directed by a healthcare provider, methadone is safe, effective, and considered a first-line treatment for opioid addiction.
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that can help relieve withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings. It is available by itself, and is also manufactured in combination with naloxone.
Suboxone is an example of a buprenorphine-naloxone product. The added naloxone component serves to help prevent substance misuse, increase safety, and help prevent opioid overdose.
Naltrexone, also known by its brand name Vivitrol, is an opioid antagonist, similar to naloxone. It is typically delivered in the form of a once-a-month injection.
It is the newest of all three medications, and there is less evidence documenting its effectiveness compared to methadone, buprenorphine, and buprenorphine-naltrexone products.
What Are The Benefits of Suboxone Treatment Compared To Methadone?
Treatment professionals often debate the pros and cons of methadone, a synthetic opioid, versus Suboxone, an opioid partial agonist-antagonist, for treating opioid addiction.
Both attach to opioid receptors in the brain. Both carry benefits and potential risks, although Suboxone is considered a preferred treatment among some treatment providers.
Some of the benefits of Suboxone for opioid addiction include:
Suboxone can be prescribed by a certified healthcare provider, and does not need to be taken in an opioid treatment program (OTP) or clinic setting.
It can be prescribed for at-home use. Although, a doctor may initially require that you take the medication under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Access Barriers To Methadone
Methadone, on the other hand, is more strictly regulated. Although it can be prescribed and taken at home for chronic pain, this is not generally the case for opioid dependence.
Those who take methadone for opioid dependence must usually visit a methadone clinic or other opioid treatment program (OTP) in order to take the medication under medical supervision.
Fewer Side Effects
Some clients report fewer or less intense side effects while taking Suboxone/buprenorphine compared to methadone.
Side effects of methadone can include:
- euphoric effects
- changes in sexual function
- nausea or vomiting
- weight changes
Suboxone can have similar side effects. But some of those effects, including euphoria, are less-often reported. This may be attributed in part to the drugs’ differences in chemical makeup.
Reduced Risk Of Overdose
Unlike methadone, Suboxone has what’s known as a built-in “ceiling effect.” This can help to prevent overdose, even in cases where someone has taken a high dose.
Suboxone also contains the ingredient, naloxone, which can help deter opioid use by precipitating withdrawal. Naloxone, on its own, can also treat opioid overdose.
While methadone overdoses are on the decline, for people with certain risk factors, the potential risk of overdose compared to Suboxone can be a concern.
Is Suboxone Better Than Methadone For Opioid Addiction?
Not necessarily. While Suboxone is considered a first-line treatment for opioid addiction, so too is methadone maintenance, which can also be an effective and safe long-term treatment.
Suboxone may be preferred by some due to the fact that it can be prescribed by a doctor for at-home use, as well as its other benefits, like fewer side effects.
But drug addiction experts emphasize that, when taken as directed, both can be helpful components of a full inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment plan.
Find Treatment For Opioid Addiction Today
If you or a loved one is looking for opioid addiction treatment, our specialists may be able to help. Call today to learn more about your treatment options or to find a rehab program near you.Article Sources
- American Journal of Psychiatry — Flexible Buprenorphine/Naloxone Model of Care for Reducing Opioid Use in Individuals with Prescription-Type Opioid Use Disorder: An Open-Label, Pragmatic, Noninferiority Randomized Controlled Trial
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Buprenorphine
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Methadone
- U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) — Percentage of overdose deaths involving methadone declined between January 2019 and August 2021