Each year, the abuse of opioids—both medications and illicit drugs like heroin—causes an alarming number of fatal overdoses. According to the CDC, opioids were implicated in nearly 70% of drug overdose deaths in 2018.
In fact, between 1999 and 2018, almost 450,000 individuals died from an opioid overdose. That’s nearly half a million families that will never see a loved one again and are dealing with the grief of a preventable death.
Despite media portrayals to the contrary, the opioid epidemic affects people from all races and walks of life. In 2018, an estimated 2 million people struggled with an opioid use disorder.
USING MEDICATIONS TO BATTLE OPIOID ADDICTION
Extensive research has shown that certain medications are effective in helping individual recovery from opioid use disorder.
But isn’t that just substituting one drug for another?
Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) uses FDA-approved drugs to manage one’s withdrawal symptoms and the body’s response to using. When combined with counseling and drug treatment, MAT can equip an individual with the tools for a successful recovery.
MAT also enables individuals to:
- Stay focused and engaged in treatment
- Reduce high-risk behaviors associated with using or obtaining illegal drugs
- Prevent dangerous, potentially fatal, relapses
- Improve birth outcomes for pregnant women struggling with opioid abuse
AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT: Using medications to treat opioid addiction is only part of the solution. One must be engaged in a treatment program that includes addiction counseling and cognitive/behavioral therapy while taking these medications.
Medications may reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms. It is, however, only the tip of the iceberg. Discovering and addressing root causes for addictive behaviors, co-occurring mental health conditions, and previous trauma provides a foundation for a successful recovery. Also, learning important skills like coping, communication, and mindfulness establishes a solid framework for navigating troubling times and other triggers for drug use.
The two most common medications to treat opioid addiction are Methadone and Suboxone. Let’s take a closer look at these medications and how they work.
WHAT IS METHADONE?
Methadone has been used for decades as a MAT treatment option to battle the addiction of heroin and narcotic pain medications.
Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid agonist. Since it is manufactured in a lab, it is not a true opiate. Methadone can come in pill, wafer, or liquid forms.
Methadone changes how the brain and nervous system respond to pain. When a therapeutic dose of methadone is administered by a qualified professional, it abates the physical needs for using opiates without causing a euphoric “high”.
Still, Methadone can be addictive. It is very important that it is taken exactly as prescribed. In fact, by law, Methadone can only be given through a SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment program (OTP).
Methadone Side Effects
As with any drug, there are potential side effects of Methadone that need to be monitored. They include:
- Feeling lightheaded
- Dry mouth
- Urinary retention
- Changes in sexual desire
Some Methadone side effects can be serious or even life-threatening. Contact emergency services if you experience:
- Shallow or difficult breathing
- Hives or a rash
- Swelling of face, mouth, or throat
- Difficulty walking
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Hallucinations or confusion
Methadone is usually taken for at least twelve months. However, some patients may remain on Methadone for years. As such, terminating Methadone treatment usually requires a doctor’s supervision.
WHAT IS SUBOXONE?
Suboxone is the brand name of a combination of two drugs—buprenorphine and naloxone—to help reduce the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms and opioid dependence.
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It blocks opiate receptors to reduce an individual’s urges to use. It works like an opioid, but the effects are weaker than full agonists like heroin or even methadone.
Naloxone, in contrast, is an opioid antagonist. It counters the effects of opioids in the body—especially in the event of an overdose. This is the same medication that first responders use to treat those with life-threatening respiratory and central nervous system depression. However, Naloxone only works if there are opioids present in the body.
Suboxone comes as a film or tablet that is placed under the tongue to dissolve. It is usually taken once a day.
Side Effects of Suboxone
As with Methadone, one may experience common side effects including:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased sweating
- Swelling in the arms or legs
- Redness or numbness in the mouth
- Pain or a burning sensation on the tongue
Serious side effects that may require medical attention include:
- Low blood pressure while standing
- Changes in liver function or liver failure
- Rashes, hives, or itching
- Risk of overdose or death when used improperly or with other sedatives and/or depressants.
BENEFITS OF SUBOXONE VS. METHADONE
When pursuing Suboxone or Methadone for an opioid addiction, you need to discuss your options with a healthcare provider who specializes in medication-assisted treatment.
Generally speaking, Suboxone is a good option for individuals who:
- Are struggling with short-acting opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers.
- Have the ability to take medications at the scheduled doses and times.
- Will check in with a healthcare provider regularly to ensure Suboxone is helping.
- Can refrain from using alcohol during treatment.
- Are committed to completing counseling or drug treatment while taking Suboxone.
- Are (preferably) not pregnant or breastfeeding during treatment.
Suboxone is a newer drug intentionally developed to fight opioid addiction. As a result, it tends to have a higher success rate than alternatives, because Suboxone discourages misuse and doesn’t produce euphoric effects. In fact, Suboxone was specifically engineered so it would be less habit-forming than its predecessor Methadone.
Furthermore, the side effects of Suboxone are usually less severe than Methadone. Accordingly, Methadone has a higher potential of negatively affecting the heart.
Another advantage of Suboxone is it can be prescribed by a certified doctor. It does not need to be administered at an opioid treatment program. You can take Suboxone in the privacy of your own home (or a doctor’s office) and then go about your daily business.
In contrast, by law, you must receive methadone at a specialized clinic. Some of these clinics have very specific hours that can interfere with your schedule.
Many insurance plans will cover at least part of your Suboxone treatment. What isn’t covered may be easier to afford with payment plans.
WANT TO SEE IF SUBOXONE CAN HELP YOU?
Not every medical provider can prescribe Suboxone Therapy. In fact, Suboxone providers must have a special license and additional training.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction—or if you are looking for an alternative to methadone—our staff at Peak Health and Wellness is certified to help.
Don’t wait. A simple call to one of our three locations can put you in contact with a caring professional who will guide you through the Suboxone evaluation process.