Methadone vs. Suboxone - Suboxone Treatment Clinic in Palm Beach FL

Methadone is a medication that was introduced in 1947 and was soon declared as the most effective drug for opioid replacement therapy. This medication is used to treat addiction to heroin and other opioids. While methadone has shown great success, many people have found themselves addicted to the medication itself.

In 2012, one-third of all prescription drug-related deaths were related to methadone overdose.[1] Because of the potential for abuse associated with methadone, a pharmaceutical company created a new medication referred to as Suboxone in 2002. Suboxone contains buprenorphine and naloxone, making it a partial opioid agonist rather than a full opioid agonist like methadone. Scientists made Suboxone in hopes that it would provide the same benefits as methadone without the high risk of addiction.

Understanding the benefits, risks, and differences between methadone and Suboxone can help individuals determine which medication is right for them.

Benefits of Methadone

Methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) has been a popular practice in addiction treatment centers across the world for years. Methadone is a very effective painkiller that can soothe the effects of opioid withdrawal during the early stages of a patient’s addiction recovery process.

Because the effects of methadone are gradual and mild, this medication is a safe alternative to addictive opioids like heroin. Methadone has significantly reduced heroin and other opioid addiction as well as decreased risk-taking behaviors like sharing needles.[2] This proves that despite the risks of this medication, it is an effective treatment for opioid addiction.

Methadone prevents users from feeling the effects of opioids that they crave by occupying opioid receptors in the brain. Additionally, symptoms of withdrawal are reduced when a patient takes methadone, allowing the person to focus on the therapeutic aspects of addiction recovery. Over time, doctors slowly wean patients off of methadone with the goal of total abstinence from all substances. However, many patients remain on methadone for longer than intended, with some taking this medication for years or even the rest of their lives.

Side Effects of Methadone

The side effects of methadone may impact both the body and mind, ranging from mild to severe depending on the person’s genetics, frequency of use, and dosage.

The side effects of methadone include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Sexual impotence
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Decreased respiratory function
  • Seizures

There are additional side effects associated with the long-term use of methadone. For example, prolonged methadone use could cause issues such as cholestatic pattern liver injury, or reduced attention span. Lastly, methadone use could lead to abuse and addiction to the medication.

Methadone’s Potential for Abuse

Because methadone is a full opioid agonist, that means it binds to opioid receptors in the brain and activates them. This causes a chemical reaction that leaves individuals vulnerable to dependence. Methadone is classified as a Schedule II drug in the United States. In other words, the medication is accepted as a drug with a high possibility of abuse.

While methadone has a high potential for abuse, it seems as if the numbers of methadone-related deaths are decreasing each year. This could be because doctors are wisening up about the length of time they prescribe methadone to their patients. While there was a 22% increase in methadone-related deaths from 2002 to 2006, this number has decreased 6% per year from 2006-2014. Additionally, recent estimates have found that the number of methadone-related deaths has dropped to 5,000 per year.[3]

It is important to remember that methadone is helpful in the fight against opioid addiction and when used in the short term, this medication typically does not cause additional issues with substance abuse. However, long-term use of methadone may lead to addiction.

Benefits of Suboxone

Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist that is made up of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is an opioid that slightly activates the opioid receptors in the brain, while naloxone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids. Due to the way these substances interact with each other, Suboxone provides relief from withdrawal symptoms without causing the body to experience a high.

Like methadone, Suboxone is intended to be used as part of a complete treatment program. It is often used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) consisting of medication, peer support, behavioral therapy, and counseling.

Studies have found that Suboxone is beneficial to individuals recovering from opioid addiction. In fact, one study found that Suboxone treatment correlated to 45 percent fewer emergency room visits among the participants of the study.[4] Due to studies like this, Suboxone is thought of as an integral part of opioid addiction treatment.

Side Effects of Suboxone

Like methadone, Suboxone does have a few side effects for patients to be aware of. However, the side effects of Suboxone tend to be mild and mainly physical.

The common side effects of Suboxone include:

  • Headache and dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Numbness around the mouth
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble concentrating

In rare cases, Suboxone can trigger serious side effects such as serotonin syndrome.[5]

Suboxone’s Potential for Abuse

Because Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone, there is a very small potential for abuse associated with the medication. Buprenorphine produces a very weak effect on the brain, while naloxone blocks the effects of opioids from creating a high. Due to this, medical professionals consider Suboxone to be a safer and less addictive approach to treating opioid addiction than methadone. Suboxone has been classified as a Schedule III drug by the DEA, meaning it has a moderate to low potential for abuse.

Find Out if Suboxone or Methadone is Right For You

If you or a loved one suffer from opioid use disorder and are ready to take the first step towards recovery, Suboxone Clinic of Palm Beach is here for you. We offer Suboxone treatment for individuals who struggle with opioid addiction and need assistance throughout the early stages of their recovery. Contact us today for more information on whether Suboxone treatment is right for you.