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What Are the Uses of Methadone and Buprenorphine?

Autumn Rivers
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Methadone and buprenorphine are both analgesics that are often used to help with heroin withdrawal. Both medications have the same effect of relieving pain and should not be used at the same time; this means treatment centers need to choose between methadone and buprenorphine, because each has its own pros and cons. For example, methadone is an opiate that takes the place of heroin; it has similar properties and is just as addictive, so doctors need to carefully supervise patients when using it to treat drug addiction. Buprenorphine also is an opiate, but it is not usually as addictive as methadone and can often be taken with less supervision. Doctors tend to take each patient's situation into consideration before choosing between methadone and buprenorphine for treating opiate dependence.

The point of prescribing methadone is to lessen the body's craving for heroin, because it offers many of the same effects and can be easily substituted for most people. This means the patient quickly becomes addicted to methadone instead of heroin, which is the first step of treatment because it is considered much safer than the street drug. As long as the patient can get another dose of methadone at least once a day, he should not feel any effects of withdrawal from heroin, and the doctor can gradually reduce the dosage to end the addiction to both drugs. While this is considered one of the best treatments for heroin addiction and has been used for several years, the main drawback is the constant medical supervision and steady stream of methadone needed for the process to work.

A newer way of treating opiate dependence is through buprenorphine, which also is an opiate that can replace heroin in addicts. The main difference between methadone and buprenorphine is that the newer drug is not nearly as addictive as methadone, which means weaning addicts off it is often a much simpler process. The accuracy of the dosage is not quite as important as with methadone, so constant supervision is not always necessary, which is why even outpatient treatment centers frequently offer it. In addition, some studies have shown that buprenorphine is preferred to methadone when treating pregnant women who are addicted to heroin, because babies whose mothers use this treatment are less likely to be born addicted to opiates or experience preterm delivery.

Both methadone and buprenorphine also can be used to treat chronic pain, usually when the discomfort is unresponsive to non-narcotic analgesics. For example, the chronic pain associated with cancer may be treated with either type of drug. Both of these medications have been known to have adverse reactions when paired with other prescription drugs, so patients are advised to tell their doctor about any other medications they are taking before using either of these painkillers.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGEEK, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.

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Autumn Rivers

Autumn Rivers

Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGEEK, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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