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The Potential for Abuse and Risks Involved with Methadone and Buprenorphine Treatments

Methadone and buprenorphine are often used to treat opioids addictions; however, they, too, can be abused. In fact, these drugs have quite a high abuse potential. They can easily become addictive, and users can become dependent on them within a short period of time. In worst-case scenarios, they can even lead to fatal overdoses. In fact, methadone caused 1 in 3 fatal overdoses from prescription opioids in 2009. Unfortunately, these drugs still are prescribed to treat pain and to treat opioid addictions. This article will explore the differences between the two drugs. It’ll also take a look at their abuse potential and properties.

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Methadone vs. Buprenorphine

Both methadone and buprenorphine are opioids that stimulate nerve cell receptors. They are both used to treat opioid addictions although through different ways. They are also both used as painkillers.


Buprenorphine functions in the same way that prescription opioids and street drugs, like heroin, do. It attaches itself to the nerve cell receptors to prevent withdrawal symptoms. This drug has a half-life between 24 to 60 hours, which is why it is useful in preventing opioid dependence. This drug is a partial agonist. This means that it does not activate any mu receptors in the body. It will only provide anaesthetic properties until the dosage reaches a certain amount. The effects will then plateau. Once that plateau is reached, your body will no longer react to the drug, even if dosages increase.


On the other, methadone blocks cravings. As long as users are able to withstand other withdrawal symptoms caused by opioid addictions, they’ll get sober. Methadone has a half-life between 8 and 59 hours. This is equally as long as the half-life of buprenorphine. Methadone is a full agonist. Unlike buprenorphine, it stimulates mu receptors in the body. This means that it will continue to have an effect on the body, as long as the dosage increases. It will never reach a plateau. The effects will taper off when the drug has stimulated all available receptors or when it has reached its maximum potential. Unfortunately, this is close to the amount required for an overdose. A methadone overdose looks and feels similar to an opioid overdose. The respiratory system basically shuts down.

Why Buprenorphine Is a Safer Choice

When exploring the mechanisms used by both buprenorphine and methadone, it becomes clear that methadone acts in a similar way as heroin and other street drugs. Methadone has similar properties as heroin, and the effects increase with the dosage. With that said, buprenorphine is hard to abuse because its effects will plateau. This plateau is the reason why buprenorphine is six times safer than methadone. This advantage also comes with a downside. Since buprenorphine has a ceiling effect, it cannot treat severe addictions. As a result, this drug treatment is only recommended for those who take less than 30 milligrams of methadone. The buprenorphine treatment can be used as a substitute or in conjunction with methadone treatment for enhanced efficacy. Since buprenorphine is safer, this drug can be prescribed by a physician and filled at local pharmacies. Methadone, on the other hand, requires patients to visit actual centers. There, medical professionals administer drugs.

A Safer Administration Method

Another advantage of buprenorphine is that it comes in several forms. The newest for administration method is through an injection that contains extended-release capsules. The capsules slowly dissolve and disintegrate over 4 to 6 weeks. Patients only need to visit their physicians every once in awhile for an injection.

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Methadone Overdose Statistics

As methadone is often prescribed as a treatment for opioid addiction, it’s hard to believe that it’s addictive. However, the numbers don’t lie. Methadone is far more dangerous that it is perceived to be. Some shocking statistics include:

  • Methadone is responsible for 1 in 3 overdoses caused by opioid pain relievers.
  • 750,000 methadone prescriptions were written in 2008 for pain relief purposes.
  • Over 120,000 Americans rely on methadone treatments to treat heroin addictions.
  • Over 20% of methadone patients will continue to use this medication as a treatment for more than 10 years.
  • In 2004, medical examiners listed methadone as the cause behind more than 4,000 deaths.
  • Approximately 15% of patients using methadone will also have a concurrent opiate use disorder.

With such shocking numbers, it’s vital that more attention is drawn to the dangers of methadone. Methadone requires daily administrations. As a result, they aren’t very convenient.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Methadone and Buprenorphine Abuse

If buprenorphine or methadone is being abused, users will experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms make it hard to quit, and is a sign that the body has developed dependence. Common withdrawal symptoms for both medications include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Drug cravings
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

The more intense the withdrawal symptoms are, the more difficult it will be to get sober. Many patients will give in to temptation and relapse.

Withdrawal Timelines

The withdrawal timeline for both buprenorphine and methadone is different. It will differ based on the amount of drugs done, the length of drug use and other factors.

Buprenorphine Withdrawals Timeline

If patients experience any withdrawal symptoms buprenorphine, the symptoms will begin to kick in within the first 72 hours. Those who are able to get past the first 72 hours will have a much easier time down the road. After the first week, symptoms will generally subside. Most patients will only experience general muscle aches and pain at this point. By the second week, the biggest symptom that patients deal with is depression. If they don’t let the withdrawals get them down, they’ll be on their way to recovery.

Methadone Withdrawals Timeline

Methadone withdrawal symptoms tend to kick in about 30 hours later. Patients experience symptoms that are more severe if they are taking methadone rather than buprenorphine. They’ll even have runny noses and goosebumps at times. The symptoms begin to peak after 1 to 3 days. This is when most patients tend to feel most emotional. All of these symptoms will subside after several weeks.

Medical Detox Treatments for Methadone Abuse

Buprenorphine is fairly easy to quit. Patients slowly wean off of the drugs. The same cannot be said for methadone. Since methadone is much more addictive, medications may also be prescribed for treating methadone addictions and methadone abuse. The medications are used to keep withdrawal symptoms as far away from you as possible. This makes it easier to slowly wean off of the drugs or quit cold turkey. You can choose which option seems best suited for your goals and needs. Popular detox medications used to curb the unwanted withdrawal symptoms of methadone include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Clonidine
  • Mood-stabilizing medications
  • Naltrexone
  • Suboxone

Addicts can choose to slowly taper off of the methadone until they are finally sober, or they can go cold turkey. In general, those who take their time to get sober are much less likely to become addicted again.

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Get Support from Therapy and Counselling

Those who successfully get sober also have a strong support group. In addition to medical detox, most rehab centers will also recommend various therapies. Popular options include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • One-on-one Counselling
  • 12-Step Programs

While some therapies are only needed for short periods of time, others are needed for long-term addiction management. 12-Step meetings are particularly effective. They treat all types of addictions, and ask for lifetime participation from their members. Those who are successful in getting sober will often act as mentors to new members.

Use These Drugs Wisely When Treating Opioid Addictions

Opioid addictions are an epidemic in America. To fight addictions, many physicians recommend medications like methadone and buprenorphine. Unfortunately, these medications can be just as addictive and problematic. If you or someone you love is dealing with opioid addiction, it’s important to first figure out the merits of relying on either methadone or buprenorphine treatments. Both may end up causing more harm than good. However, you are less likely to get addicted to methadone or buprenorphine if you seek professional help from a rehab center. In-patient programs watch your body’s response to the medications. They also control the dosage to prevent abuse, so that the medications do only what they are intended to do. If used correctly, both methadone and buprenorphine are useful tools. They’ll prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms without becoming a burden on your body. Those who are struggling with a methadone or buprenorphine addiction should still consider speaking with one of our counselors. Getting sober can be a long and difficult journey. We’re here to offer you some help and support so that you don’t have to go at it alone.