Methadone and Suboxone:
Effective Treatments or Recipes for Disaster?
Withdrawing from opiate abuse – whether it’s heroin, OxyContin or other prescription painkillers – is generally extremely painful and difficult to manage. In fact, it’s the pain of withdrawal that often prevents addicts from successfully treating an opiate addiction. Some see living with the costs of addiction as the lesser of two evils.
To help addicts achieve recovery, many rehabilitation centers and physicians prescribe treatment with synthetic opiates (opioids) like Methadone or Suboxone. These drugs, both narcotics, alleviate the pain of withdrawal without the high that comes from opiate abuse. As addicts gain more control over their illness, the treatment is tapered off until, ideally, they are completely clean and sober without the assistance of additional narcotics.
About Methadone and Suboxone
For decades, Methadone was the treatment of choice for opiate addiction. In 2002, Suboxone, a more convenient medication to administer, was approved for use in treating addiction to opiates.
Both opioid drugs are extremely addictive narcotics and are only approved for use under the supervision of a medical professional. They aren’t cure-all medications; in a sense, they are a step-down from opiates and will also lead to withdrawal symptoms when stopped. Methadone and Suboxone are both potentially fatal, especially when combined with alcohol or other drugs or when a patient overdoses. The chances of abuse or overdose are very slim, though, especially when the drug is administered under medical supervision.
On the positive side, addicts recovering with the assistance of opioids generally have more success in staying sober and returning to a productive and fulfilling life. Studies have shown that increased access to opioid treatment has reduced crime and the incidence of blood borne diseases (as fewer addicts are sharing contaminated needles) and increased levels of employment among recovering addicts.
But that is where the similarities between Suboxone and Methadone end.
Differences Between Methadone and Suboxone
While Methadone and Suboxone have similar purposes, they are very different drugs. Methadone, because of its highly addictive nature, its ability to cause a high in some people and its potential for abuse and illegal distribution, can only be administered in a doctor’s office or clinic. This means that addicts recovering with Methadone have to make daily visits to a Methadone clinic for treatment, as the drug only lasts for a maximum of 24 hours. This can be disruptive to the patient’s life and ability to attend school or work. Not to mention that many communities resist the opening of Methadone clinics, concerned that the presence of recovering addicts on a daily basis will increase crime.
Suboxone, on the other hand, can stay in the system for several days, eliminating the need for daily clinic visits. Also, Suboxone is much less likely to be abused since it does not cause any sort of euphoria or high, so patients can fill prescriptions and take the drug at home, with regular monitoring by a physician. However, unlike Methadone, Suboxone has not been tested or proven safe during pregnancy, meaning that pregnant women with opiate addictions are limited to using Methadone, keeping in mind that their newborn infants will need treatment for withdrawal after birth.
The Bottom Line
While Suboxone has some clear advantages over Methadone for treating opiate addiction, Methadone is still the treatment of choice, primarily due to cost. Both drugs cost approximately $7,000 per year, but the government currently only subsidizes Methadone treatment. This means that unless private insurance covers Suboxone, or patients have the resources to pay out of pocket, Suboxone is cost-prohibitive for most people.
While Metahdone and Suboxone are the most common treatments for opiate addiction, there are alternatives. One is abstinence, or quitting opiates “cold turkey.” However, the pain and physical effects of stopping opiate use without medication are excruciating, so this method often fails.
Some addicts may benefit from a rapid detoxification program. In these programs, the patient is put into a medically induced coma for several days, allowing the body to experience the worst of the withdrawal symptoms without the extreme pain and psychological trauma. This method only works for some patients, though, and comprehensive rehabilitation to deal with the mental causes of addiction is still necessary. In some cases, maintenance treatment with Methadone or Suboxone will still be required even after rehabilitation.
Recovering from any substance addiction is difficult, but kicking an opiate habit is especially challenging. Drug-based treatments such as Methadone and Suboxone give addicts a chance to recover, but only if they are fully committed to living drug-free and following through with the treatment. Both opioid treatments are highly addictive on their own, and in some cases, there is potential for the treatment to become as much of a problem as the disease. However, for those who truly want to recover, these treatments may be the answer.
This guest post article was written and provided by Gregg Gustafson who is a freelance writer and consultant for Drug-Rehab.org. Gustafson works with individuals who suffer from drug abuse, in turn referring them to some of the most prestige residential drug rehab centers active today.
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