Methadone and suboxone are the two leading medications available for the treatment of opioid addiction. They are both opioid replacement therapies that, when taken regularly, will prevent an individual from experiencing opioid withdrawal sickness. Suboxone was approved by the FDA in 2002, and this allowed local physicians to begin prescribing Suboxone from their offices to opioid addicted patients seeking help.
This was a landmark achievement in consumer choice and provided people another very useful option for dealing with opioid addiction. To treat a patient with suboxone, a physician must first complete a comprehensive course, and become approved, before being allowed to prescribe the medication.
Since opioid replacement medication by itself addresses only the underlying physiological dependence (but not the related psychological contributors to addiction), patients are required to obtain substance abuse counseling as a part of their suboxone treatment. This additional requirement helps to ensure that patients are receiving education & training in understanding their addiction, and in identifying methods for preventing opioid relapse in the future.
Many suboxone-approved physicians do not provide this supplemental addiction counseling, and will consequently refer their suboxone patients to local providers who offer drug treatment services.
While suboxone and methadone are similar in action, they are unique enough to offer distinctly different advantages. You can review our comparison chart to examine some of the differences between the two medications. Both methadone and suboxone are slow acting, long lasting opioid agonists that bind to the body's opiate receptors. This particular action eliminates opioid withdrawal sickness very effectively, and thus allows individuals to resume their daily lives.
Suboxone is actually a branded medication & product of the pharmaceutical company, Reckitt Benckiser. Suboxone's most common formulations are a tablet or thin film, both of which are held under the tongue until the medication dissolves. Once dissolved, the medication is naturally absorbed through the tissues under the tongue and into the bloodstream. The newer film formulation dissolves somewhat more quickly than the tablet.
Suboxone is generally taken once per day although some patients with a milder opioid dependency may be able to take the medication every other day and remain comfortable. Suboxone does not produce a drug high for tolerant users, and does not interfere with one's daily activities. Many patients report feeling very comfortable while being maintained on suboxone and also during their gradual taper off of the medication.
What is in Suboxone?
Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine (an opioid agonist) is the ingredient that binds to opiate receptors and provides relief by blocking withdrawal symptoms (very similar to methadone). Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of opiates and will cause withdrawal. This seems like a strange paradox having both ingredients in one tablet. However, do not worry. Remember, Suboxone is dissolved and absorbed under the tongue. The antagonist, Naloxone, becomes inert (has no effect) when dissolved under the tongue. So one only experiences the benefit of the Buprenorphine.
Why is Naloxone Added to Suboxone?
Specifically to discourage & prevent injection use of suboxone. Some addicted individuals may try to inject suboxone to obtain a drug high. When they do so, the Naloxone becomes immediately active (since it's being injected directly into the bloodstream), and it brings on sudden withdrawal symptoms making the individual feel very sick. This reinforces a person for using suboxone the proper way (under the tongue), and prevents future attempts at injecting suboxone.
How Do I Know if Suboxone is Right For Me?
This is a great question although a little difficult to answer. Suboxone tends to be effective for a considerable number of people addicted to opioids. Many of those who do well with suboxone are people who have a relatively shorter duration of opioid addiction or whose addiction is based on a comparatively smaller amount of daily opioid use. Heavy opioid users with a longer history of addiction sometimes respond better to methadone. However, there are notable exceptions.
Suboxone has a ceiling effect around 24 mg of medication daily. 24 mg is generally considered to be the dose at which maximum withdrawal relief is provided. For most addicted people, taking more than 24 mg of suboxone will not provide any more additional relief. Methadone has no such ceiling effect and its dosage levels can be raised much higher, consequently providing a greater level of comfort and symptom relief for more severe opioid dependencies.
In conclusion, 8 mg to 24 mg of suboxone may provide excellent relief for someone new to medication-assisted recovery. If they find that suboxone is not strong enough to manage their withdrawal symptoms, then methadone most certainly will since it has no "ceiling effect".
Suboxone Taper Programs and Suboxone Maintenance
Taper programs aim to stabilize an opioid addicted individual on suboxone for a brief period of time and then taper their dosage down over a 60 to 90 day period. This taper period is not set in stone and can vary depending on the individual's need. The primary goal is to stabilize with suboxone and to then taper off with the end result being complete freedom from opioids and opioid replacement medication. Some patients do very well with a scheduled taper. Other patients may find that tapering is problematic and will switch to a period of maintenance. Maintenance with suboxone is effective and safe, just like with methadone. Upon first entering the market, Suboxone was mostly used for tapering off of opioids. However, it is commonly used today for extended maintenance in similar fashion to methadone.