Ever since methadone was introduced to the public in 1947, the drug has been widely considered one of the most effective drugs for opioid replacement therapy. Physicians used methadone to treat their patients’ addictions to heroin and other opioids with great success.
Despite its success in addiction treatment, over the years, an ugly side of methadone has reared its head, as more and more people find themselves addicted to the very drug meant to help them manage their addiction.
The numbers are astounding; in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that one-third of all prescription drug-related deaths that year were related to methadone overdose.
Seemingly in response to the growing danger of methadone abuse and addiction, British pharmaceutical company Reckitt Benckiser released a drug called Suboxone in 2002. This drug, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, was advertised as a possible replacement for methadone. As a partial opioid agonist (compared to the full agonist methadone), scientists argued that Suboxone would offer individuals the same benefits as methadone without the high potential for abuse.
The premise was exciting, and medical professionals and addiction specialists around the world wondered if Suboxone could be as effective as methadone without the abuse risk. Now, thanks to over a decade of research, we can examine the benefits and side effects of both methadone and Suboxone.
Benefits of Methadone
For years, methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) has been a common practice in addiction treatment facilities all over the world. This is because methadone is a very effective painkiller, which offers relief to people struggling with the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with addiction to heroin and other narcotics.
The effects of methadone are gradual and mild, which makes the drug a safer replacement for opioids of abuse during treatment. Frankly, the results speak for themselves. A 2012 report in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences is just one of many studies that finds MMT responsible for a significant reduction in heroin and opiate addiction, as well as a decrease in risk-taking behaviors like sharing needles. These results have been replicated all over the world, proving that methadone is an effective treatment for addiction.
Essentially, since methadone occupies opioid receptor sites in the brain, users don’t feel cravings for other opioids, like heroin or prescription painkillers. In addition, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid detox, such as nausea, vomiting, and other flu-like symptoms, are kept at bay. Since withdrawal is managed, individuals are able to focus on the therapeutic aspect of addiction treatment, addressing underlying issues that led to their abuse of opioids. Over time, supervising doctors slowly wean patients off methadone, with the ultimate goal of total abstinence from all substances. That being said, many patients remain on methadone for months, years, or even for life.