Comparing Two Popular Opioid Addiction Treatment Medications

Opioid addiction treatment medications help individuals restore their lives and improve the chances of successful recovery for the long-term.

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is fast becoming the standard for treating opioid addiction. MAT involves opioid addiction treatment medications that reduce cravings while preventing withdrawal so that individuals can focus on restoring their lives. MAT combines these medications with behavioral therapy for a two-pronged approach to treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, MAT has been shown to:

  • Improve survival rates.
  • Increase retention in addiction treatment.
  • Reduce opiate use and related criminal activity.
  • Improve the ability to find and maintain employment.
  • Improve birth outcomes for addicted pregnant women.
  • Reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis C.

Many high quality addiction treatment programs offer MAT for those who wish to avoid long-term cravings and other negative after-effects of an opioid addiction.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Medications

Three opioid addiction treatment medications have been approved by the FDA for medication-assisted treatment.


Methadone has been used to treat opioid addiction since the FDA approved it for that purpose in 1972. It works by preventing the onset of withdrawal symptoms, including cravings, and blocking the euphoric effects of opioids. Methadone itself is addictive, although it doesn’t produce the intense effects of opioids like prescripton pain relievers and heroin. Methadone must be taken every day, and it can only be administered through approved clinics. This means that methadone maintenance requires a daily trip to get the dose. If you’re unable to get your dose for any reason, withdrawal will begin to set in.

Buprenorphine (Suboxone and Subutex)

Buprenorphine was approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction in 2002. Like methadone, it keeps withdrawal symptoms at bay and blocks the pleasurable effects of opioids. Unlike methadone, buprenorphine can be prescribed by a doctor, precluding the need for a daily trip to the clinic. While buprenorphine can be abused, its effects are much milder than other opioids, and opioid-blocking additives reduce the potential for misuse.

Naltrexone (Vivitrol, ReVia, Depade)

Naltrexone, a fairly new drug for opioid addiction, was approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction in 2010. In pill form, under the trade name ReVia or Depade, naltrexone is taken once a day and can be prescribed to use at home. In its injectable form, naltrexone is sold under the name Vivitrol, which is administered once a month. Naltrexone activates opioid receptors that suppress cravings, and it blocks the euphoric effects of opioids. Unlike methadone and buprenorphine, which can be taken immediately upon quitting opioids, this relatively new drug for opioid addiction can’t be administered until you’ve detoxed from opioids and been clean for seven to 10 days.

New Study Compares Buprenorphine and Naltrexone

A new study published in the journal The Lancet found that buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone appear to be equally safe and effective opiate replacement drugs.

The 24-week study tested these opioid addiction treatment medications on 570 opioid-addicted individuals and found that after six months, the relapse rates were very similar–52 percent of people taking naltrexone relapsed, while 56 percent of people taking buprenorphine relapsed. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction relapse rates are typically between 40 and 60 percent.

Which is Right For You? Pros and Cons of Buprenorphine and Naltrexone

Knowing that both naltrexone and buprenorphine are safe and effective opiate replacement drugs can make choosing between them challenging. Which you choose is largely a matter of personal preference and the recommendation of your physician.

A major benefit of buprenorphine is that you don’t have to go through opioid detox before beginning MAT. A major pitfall is that buprenorphine can be misused, and you can develop a dependence on it if you don’t take it exactly as prescribed.

Two benefits of naltrexone are the ability to receive it as a monthly injection and the fact that it’s non-addictive. A major pitfall for many is that you have to go through detox before taking naltrexone. However, medical detox can reduce the intensity and duration of opioid withdrawal.


If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.