For those aware of opioid addiction and treatment, two terms probably sound familiar: Suboxone vs Methadone.
These are two of the most common options for those seeking out monitored treatment and care for addiction. However, there are a few very important differences between both choices you should understand first.
What does each of these options entail? What are the differences between suboxone vs methadone? If you are considering either of these choices for a loved one, you should definitely understand these differences.
Read on to learn all the important details you need to know about which treatment is right for your loved one. That way, you can make a more informed decision should you choose either methadone or suboxone.
Believe it or not, methadone has existed as a treatment option since 1947. It was originally used as an alternative method for pain treatment. Today, it primarily serves as a treatment option to help people manage and overcome their addictions to opioids like heroin and several prescription painkillers.
Much like morphine, you can take methadone in several different forms:
As a controlled substance, methadone must be prescribed by a doctor.
It must also be administered under controlled circumstances at a licensed medical facility. In some cases, patients may take methadone home to self-administer while remaining regularly monitored by doctors and other medical professionals.
In many cases, dedicated methadone clinics provide the most specialized care to patients. These facilities are designed to streamline treatment and provide treatment specifically oriented toward opioid treatment.
Like other opioids, methadone works by blocking your brain’s receptors to pain. However, the effects are subtler and slower than other painkillers like hydrocodone or morphine.
Methadone does not create a high like other opioid painkillers do. Instead, it also block’s the brain’s ability to feel that high. It can produce similar painkilling effects without the associated high.
For patients in treatment, methadone serves as a replacement therapy for other more dangerous drugs, such as heroin. It stops the onset of withdrawal and helps to calm the overwhelming feelings of anxiety which may occur as a result. Because of this, it can help to control addicts’ behavior as they recover.
Methadone Treatment Options
There is no set amount of methadone for treatment to patients. This is because of the high amount of variance in tolerance for opioid addicts. Some addicts require more heroin or other drugs to produce a high. Similarly, some patients in treatment will require a higher dose of methadone for relief against withdrawal symptoms.
Methadone treatment times can vary wildly from six months to several years or more depending on the patient. Ideally, a care plan can help patients regain control of their addiction over the course of several weeks. As a patient recovers, the amount of methadone administered will slowly decrease. This slowly weans them off of methadone while simultaneously weaning them off other opioids.
As always, methadone administration must be continually monitored by a doctor and other medical professionals. In most cases, this process also includes multiple factors:
- Physical Exams
- Routine Drug Testing for Other Drugs/Substance
Through this broad approach, the goal is to help patients overcome their addiction. From there, they must also develop ways to prevent relapse in the future.
Methadone Side Effects
Common side effects during short-term use include the following:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Excessive Sweating
- Anxiety or Restlessness
- Slower Respiration
Occasionally, methadone may also cause more severe side effects:
- Hallucinations or confusion
- Labored breathing (shallow breath)
- Rash, hives, or other skin issues
- Swelling in lips, face, tongue, or neck
- Fainting, dizziness
In these cases, patients should notify their doctor as soon as possible. In more serious emergencies, as always, patients should call EMS.
All About Suboxone
Also known as buprenorphine with naloxone, suboxone is another highly popular alternative to methadone. Suboxone is a newer drug than its methadone counterpart as it was first introduced in 2002.
The drug itself is actually two types of substances:
- Agonist: Help address the feelings of withdrawal
- Antagonist: Cause a bodily repulsive feeling toward other opiates
Suboxone allows effective pain relief from the symptoms of withdrawal. It also helps patients avoid using opiates again due to this antagonist effect.
Suboxone is often used as a highly effective way to detoxify a patient from opiates. Agonists keep the patient away from the horrible pain of withdrawal. This aversion decreases the chances of an opioid relapse.
Suboxone: Designed to Fight Addiction
As mentioned, the antagonist effect creates repulsion in the body should a patient introduce any other opiates into it. That way, it can also add a second step to prevent relapse. This is especially important due to the dangers of using opiates like heroin while simultaneously receiving a substance like suboxone.
Methadone was originally created as a synthetic opioid to help treat pain. Conversely, suboxone was developed specifically to help fight against opioid addiction. This adds a few potential advantages to this choice over its methadone counterpart.
In most cases, suboxone is not as addictive as methadone. Many people become addicted to methadone (often before any formal treatment for addiction). This obviously leads to a potential problem: what happens when the treatment for addiction is –in itself– addictive?
Lots of research supports this critical difference as an important advantage of suboxone vs methadone. However, there are still several risks involved with this treatment, much like methadone.
Common side effects of suboxone include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased sexual function
Like any other drug, contact your doctor or call emergency services if you begin to experience more serious or dangerous side effects. Make sure to discuss any effects you experience with an addiction treatment professional.
Direct Comparison: Suboxone vs Methadone
Now you have the primary points of both suboxone and methadone described above. But all of this data may not answer the main point of this post. What are the differences between suboxone and methadone? And what choice is right for your loved one?
Here are the most important differences and reasons to choose one or another – listed for an easy-to-reference guide.
Methadone is more clinically researched and has much more medical backing than suboxone.
As mentioned, methadone has been around since 1947. The substance has undergone a high degree of scrutiny over those 70+ years. This means that it comes with a much higher degree of medical backing compared to suboxone.
Many patients choose methadone based on its general record of safety and use. If this is an important reason for you, methadone makes a better choice.
Methadone is often less expensive than suboxone.
Suboxone is a much newer alternative to methadone, being as it was first introduced in 2002. This makes it much more relatively unknown as a heroin addiction treatment option compared with methadone. This also means that methadone will generally cost less than suboxone for treatment.
Methadone is more frequently covered by insurance than suboxone.
Another fundamental consideration you must make relates to who will play for this treatment. This frequently boils down to the question of insurance. Insurance companies have broadly begun to accept methadone treatment under their coverage. But this coverage often does not extend to suboxone.
Review your insurance coverage options to ensure either methadone or suboxone are covered. Otherwise, you may face a significantly higher out-of-pocket cost.
Suboxone is less addictive than methadone.
Again, one major criticism against methadone comes in the form of its addiction potential. Many patients actually become addicted to methadone outside of a treatment facility. Even worse, they may seek it out after their monitored methadone treatment plan completes at a facility.
Suboxone, on the other hand, was designed to help minimize its addictive qualities. Its combination of agonists and antagonists help relieve withdrawal symptoms while decreasing the risk for other opioid usage. This combination allows the drug to remain less addictive for potential abuse after a treatment period.
The addictive qualities of methadone have remained at the forefront of its criticism as a treatment option. However, the idea behind the treatment is to substitute the drug as a less dangerous alternative to prescription painkillers, heroin, or other opioids. This principle is often referred to as a harm reduction program. You can read more about this idea in a section below.
Suboxone works faster than methadone.
Suboxone is much more fast-acting than its methadone counterpart. Eliminating withdrawal using suboxone can occur within a week or two. In some cases, weaning a patient from physical withdrawal risks may take several months or more.
Many advocates of suboxone cite this as a strong advantage for this choice. Overcoming the physical symptoms of addiction can help patients address the factors which may have caused the addiction in the first place. Using this approach, patients can focus on recovery strategies even faster for long-term success.
Suboxone often allows take-home options or less disruptive treatment.
The use of suboxone often allows patients to continue their normal lives more quickly and with less hassle than a daily-attended methadone clinic. Methadone usually must be more stringently monitored than suboxone. Many patients, therefore, prefer suboxone as a less disruptive drug treatment option.
Please note that suboxone is still highly monitored with a staff of medical professionals and regulations. However, it can often open up treatment to take-home medication much more conveniently than methadone.
Addressing the Controversy of Harm Reduction Programs
If you know anything about methadone or suboxone, you probably also know about the controversy surrounding them. This controversy simply boils down to the idea of administering drugs to treat addiction to drugs. Some people do not agree with this approach, which is why these treatments often face criticism.
To address this criticism, let’s examine the idea of harm reduction programs can explain. Harm reduction programs serve to lessen the risks of injury, overdose, death, and other behavior by people suffering from drug addictions. A few examples of this practice include the following:
- Providing clean needles with no questions asked
- Opening up spaces for addicts to remain safe (as opposed to remaining on the street)
- Use of opioid dependence medications like suboxone and methadone
The principle behind this practice is to diminish the dangers drug addicts may face every day. Without these options, many addicts would have to engage in riskier behavior and face more dangers.
Rather than treating addiction, reducing harm may face criticism. After all, why would anyone want to provide needles to drug addicts? This seems counterintuitive to proper treatment and recovery!
The difference here is that something like the availability of clean needles lowers the risk and danger of addicts using dirty needles. This can reduce the harm these people may cause on themselves.
This same idea is what drives the harm reduction programs for opioid addiction using suboxone and methadone. These programs provide all the following benefits to patients:
- Ongoing monitoring by doctors and health professionals
- Access to Methadone/Suboxone from trusted sources (no dangers of drugs being laced)
- Programs designed to wean people off of substances
- Concurrent treatment options, such as counseling, to treat underlying issues
Despite the criticisms of harm reduction, research shows that it can help many addicts much more than an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to care. Advocates of the practice note the improved safety and countless success cases of former addicts.
As always, you should consult with your doctor to determine which course of action is best for your loved one.
Find the Best Choice for Treatment with Recovery Oasis
When your loved one is suffering from addiction, finding the best treatment is imperative. The caring professionals at Recovery Oasis will work with you to determine your best course of action. Their goal is the same as yours – to develop a treatment and care plan to help you find the road to recovery.
Now that you know a little more about suboxone vs methadone, you can develop a care plan with Recovery Oasis that works best for you. To learn more about what we do, contact us today. Our attentive and caring staff will be happy to speak with you. You can even schedule your initial consultation online – privately and discretely.
When your loved one needs help, the staff at Recovery Oasis is here to help.