Suboxone vs. Subutex


Suboxone and Subutex are two medications that can make recovering from heroin addiction much easier. If you’re thinking about starting your journey to recovery from heroin, the thoughts going through your mind may be overwhelming. You may be thinking – how will I live without heroin? Opioid withdrawal effects are extremely frightening – I don’t want to go through that! And most of all – will I ever be able to live a drug-free life?

The answer is yes. There are many treatments available to help you along your journey, including Narcotic Replacement Therapy, which uses medications such as Suboxone and Subutex to make recovery from opioid addiction easier.

Read on for an overview of opioid and heroin addiction, information about Narcotic Replacement Therapy, and the differences between the medications Suboxone and Subutex.

Heroin & Opioid Addiction: An Overview

Heroin is a drug of the opioid (also known as “narcotic”) class. Opioids bind to receptors in the brain to relieve pain and produce euphoria. Other opioids include morphine, codeine and oxycodone.

While opioids produce many similar effects, heroin is one of the most dangerous. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that heroin has a high potential for abuse, physical dependence, and psychological dependence. Furthermore, heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs, and heroin abusers have a high risk of overdose and death.

While recovering from heroin addiction can seem overwhelming and impossible at times, there are treatments that can help get you to a drug-free life. One of these treatments is Narcotic Replacement Therapy.

What is Narcotic Replacement Therapy?

According to the Substance Use Disorder Compliance Division of the California Department of Health Care Services, Narcotic Replacement Therapy (NRT) is the most successful heroin addiction treatment as well as the most well-researched opioid dependency treatment.

NRT is a treatment that utilizes medications to reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. The main goals of NRT are to (1) prevent relapse, (2) reduce cravings and (3) block the “highs” of opioid abuse.

Narcotic Replacement Therapy has two phases – detoxification and maintenance.

The detoxification phase can last from 21 to 180 days. During detoxification, patients are given narcotic replacement medication to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, the medication will be tapered: the dose will be slowly decreased over time.

The next phase is maintenance. During the maintenance phase, the patient is given the medication in a stabilized dosage. This phase allows a patient to utilize additional treatments while reducing opioid addiction.

There are many benefits to Narcotic Replacement Therapy. NRT has been shown to:

  • Decrease illegal drug use and abuse
  • Reduce criminal activity
  • Help prevent infection and disease from spreading amongst drug users

What are the available Narcotic Replacement Therapy Medications?

There are three commonly used medications for NRT: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. While all are opioid medications, methadone and naltrexone have clear drawbacks. Methadone is registered under the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule II drug, which means that has a high abuse potential. Moreover, methadone is the least accessible: it “is only available through approved outpatient treatment programs”. Furthermore, patients prescribed naltrexone often do not comply with their treatments.

However, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the best treatment for opioid addiction is one that includes medication.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is the most accessible of the opioid treatment medications. In 2002, the Federal Drug Administration approved buprenorphine, making buprenorphine the first opioid treatment medication that can be prescribed by qualified physicians in their offices. Moreover, it is classified as a Schedule III drug, which means that it has a lower potential for abuse than that of methadone.

Buprenorphine is called an “opioid partial agonist”. In simpler terms, this means that buprenorphine binds to the same receptors in the brain that opioids like heroin do, but only partially activates them. Therefore, buprenorphine alleviates opioid cravings but does not produce the same “high”. Furthermore, buprenorphine has a low overdose potential and is one of the most commonly used medications for opioid addiction.

Buprenorphine comes in two forms: a “pure form” called Subutex and a mixture with naloxone called Suboxone.

What’s the difference between Suboxone and Subutex?

Subutex was the first form of buprenorphine prescribed by physicians. However, health professionals found that while Subutex was an effective opiate addiction treatment, some patients abused the drug. These patients would inject Subutex to get the feelings of euphoria that they used to get from the drug they were trying to stop taking. Because of this, Suboxone was developed.

Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone, an opiate antagonist. Naloxone decreases the likelihood of buprenorphine abuse: if Suboxone is snorted or injected, naloxone will force the patient to undergo severe withdrawal effects. However, when Suboxone is taken as prescribed (as sublingual tablets), it does not lead to withdrawal and instead lessens withdrawal symptoms.

Both Subutex and Suboxone are effective drugs for the treatment of opioid addiction. However, because Suboxone contains naloxone along with buprenorphine, it is less likely to be abused, and more commonly prescribed.

Subutex, Suboxone and other narcotic replacement therapy medications are integral components of the treatment process; however, they are most effective when combined with behavioral therapy.

At HIT Los Angeles we have health professionals who will work with you to help you obtain the drug-free life you’ve always wanted. To learn more about medications, therapies and other treatments that can help, visit our website here, and call us at 800.562.2319 for a consultation today!

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