Since the 1960s, methadone treatment was the only available medication for the treatment of opiate addiction. However, methadone does not work for everyone, and it was clear that further development and new medications were needed.
In of 2002 the FDA approved buprenorphine as a treatment for opiate addiction, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. Since then it has become a popular treatment, especially in Suboxone, a medication in which it is the main component.
Buprenorphine is classified as a Schedule III controlled substance as compared to methadone’s classifications as a Schedule II narcotic.
It has the same function as methadone, though its effects and method of administering are a bit different.
Drug withdrawals and drug cravings account for why it’s so hard for people struggling with opiate addiction to stop using. While detox brings on some of the most distressing withdrawal effects, recovering addicts often experience less severe (though no less distressing) withdrawal “aftereffects” that persist for years after a person stops using. Likewise, drug cravings become that much more intense when withdrawal symptoms go untreated.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, opiate addiction treatment medications specifically target the effects of long-term opiate use on brain and body functions. In effect, medication therapies, such as methadone and buprenorphine help alleviate both the short-term and long-term aftereffects of opiate addiction.
Opiate addiction leaves the brain in an imbalanced chemical state with limited functional ability. Until brain cells heal completely, a person will continue to experience withdrawal and cravings.
Much like methadone, buprenorphine works as a synthetic opiate that mimics the effects of other harmful opiate drugs. This type of treatment approach is known as replacement therapy.
As a replacement therapy, buprenorphine’s effects help to “soothe” damaged brain cell receptors without producing the addictive effects associated with opiate abuse. In the process, recovering addicts gain relief from persistent withdrawal effects and drug cravings.
Types of Buprenorphine
Buprenorphine comes in two forms that go by the brand names, Subutex and Suboxone. The two brands differ in the types of ingredients used and the effects each drug has on the brain. Subutex contains buprenorphine, so the effects are comparable to those of methadone.
Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone. Naloxone works to prevent a person from relapsing by blocking out any “high” effects produced by addictive opiate drugs. For people with an extensive history of drug treatment and relapse episodes, Suboxone’s combined ingredients help to alleviate withdrawals and cravings while at the same time eliminating a person’s ability to get “high” should a relapse occur.
Buprenorphine Treatment Benefits
- Can be obtained at a physician’s office
- Lower risk of addiction
- May not need to go to doctor daily to receive medication
- Lower potential for abuse
Buprenorphine’s classification as a Schedule III controlled substance makes it that much more accessible than methadone’s narcotics classification. Rather than obtain daily doses of methadone from authorized clinics or programs, recovering addicts can receive buprenorphine medications from a doctor’s office.
As a Schedule III controlled substance, buprenorphine also carries a lower risk of addiction than methadone, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For people coming off severe opiate addictions, this lowered risk of addiction greatly reduces the likelihood a person will abuse it.