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Methadone vs Suboxone vs Vivitrol: Which is Right for You?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 26, 2023

Table of Contents

Generally speaking, there are currently three types of medications that are U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved to treat opioid use disorder: Methadone, Suboxone, and Vivitrol. These medications come in different forms: pills, dissolvable films, and liquids. Studies have shown that these forms of medication-assisted treatment when used in conjunction with addiction recovery treatment can raise the one-year sobriety rates to as high 45 to 60%.

This is a great improvement over the 20 to 30% percent average rate we typically see with treatment alone. These medications can help clients deal with the uncomfortable effects of opioid withdrawal and opioid withdrawal symptoms. Doctors agree that these medications work best when they’re paired with treatment and support (ex. rehab, intensive outpatient program (IOP), and sober living.

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Methadone vs. Vivitrol

While not new, Vivitrol is an injectable version of naltrexone, a generic drug that has been used in the treatment of opioid abuse since the mid-1980s. Vivitrol is an antagonist that blocks receptors in the brain so they can’t be activated by opioids. That prevents a person from feeling euphoria, or the “high” produced by oxycodone, heroin, hydrocodone, and other opioids. However, it does not prevent an opioid overdose from happening if a person keeps trying to use.

Initially available as a pill, oral naltrexone, wasn’t a huge success because it didn’t completely reduce cravings for opioids and it was hard to get addicts to adhere to taking it daily. In 2006, an injectable version of naltrexone – first called Vivitrex but later branded Vivitrol — was approved to treat alcohol dependence. In 2010, the FDA approved the Vivitrol shot to help prevent relapse in opioid addicts, though it noted several warnings regarding its use.

While Vivitrol does not provide any sort of feelings of euphoria, methadone has the opposite influence. Methadone can provide clients with a positive feeling and can even prove to be addictive and cause methadone overdose for people that abuse the drug. That said, if administered properly, methadone, too, is an effective form of medication-assisted treatment. To get a better understanding of how methadone can affect a person, let’s compare methadone and suboxone before looking at all three.

a woman is looking out a window to represent withdrawal symptoms and the partial opioid agonist.

Suboxone vs Methadone

Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid that partially activates receptors in the brain that crave opioids. Doses are set to give addicts enough medication not to feel the symptoms of withdrawal but also not enough to feel high. The medications, called agonists, have been studied for decades and found to be effective when used in conjunction with treatment.

Suboxone, a brand of the medication that also includes a naloxone component, an opioid antagonist, to prevent tampering and abuse. It is a partial opioid agonist and is among the most prescribed versions of this medication in the country. First approved by the FDA for use to treat opioid addiction in 2002, buprenorphine-based medications are most often taken as pills or films that dissolve under the tongue or inside the cheek.

Recently, the FDA cautiously approved a longer-acting version of buprenorphine that can be placed under the skin to release a steady dose of the medication for up to six months for patients who have done well and have been put on smaller doses of the medication.

In the treatment world, the discussion of methadone and suboxone is raised often. There are some differences worthy of consideration. First, methadone is the oldest and most proven opioid addiction treatment medication. The opioid-based medication helps a person to maintain a safer level of opioids in their body to prevent the shock of withdrawal or incessant cravings.

Methadone is shown to work best when used for long periods of time, often years. Patients are generally weaned off the medication slowly over time and this process must be carefully monitored. Methadone can be addictive, so it is the most highly regulated. Again, strict regulation and careful monitoring speak to the risks associated with abuse. For this reason, pharmaceutical companies explored other options.

As for suboxone, both methadone and suboxone bind to the brain’s opioid receptors. However, unlike methadone treatment, suboxone does not fully stimulate them. Suboxone is one of the most widely used drugs for opioid replacement therapy to help treat opioid dependence.

Vivitrol vs. Suboxone

Both Vivitrol and Suboxone are effective at treating opioid use disorder. They can help reduce cravings, prevent relapse, and improve quality of life. Both medications are also relatively safe, with few side effects. That said, there are some differences between the two medications.

Vivitrol is a once-monthly injection, while Suboxone is a daily pill. Vivitrol is also more expensive than Suboxone. Vivitrol may be a better choice for people who have difficulty taking medication daily, or who are at high risk of overdose. Suboxone may be a better choice for people who are unable to abstain from opioids for several days before starting treatment.

Cost Comparison of Vivitrol, Suboxone, and Methadone

Vivitrol: Costs

Vivitrol is the most expensive medication per dose, though it is often prescribed for a shorter period of time than buprenorphine or methadone. It can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,400 per shot, not including a facility fee for administering the injection.

Medicaid pays a slightly lower negotiated price, though the exact amount is confidential. In a recent report, Ohio Medicaid paid more than $38 million dollars for Vivitrol prescriptions to treat opioid addiction. The pill version of naltrexone is far less costly, at roughly $70 a month. It has to be taken daily and is mostly used for those with addictions very motivated to be sober.

Suboxone: Costs

Costs for Suboxone or generic buprenorphine prescriptions vary significantly based on the dose prescribed, from $100 a month to $800 a month, far less for generics. In one state, Medicaid paid more than $60 million for Suboxone prescriptions in 2016 and close to $11 million for generic or other branded formulations that include buprenorphine. In some states, prescribers and clinics have drawn criticism for charging Suboxone patients for the weekly or monthly appointments required to get the prescriptions. Prescribers cite the high administrative costs to manage patients on Suboxone (because of the monthly pre-authorizations required by Medicaid and other insurance coverage) as a reason for these fees. In order to prescribe buprenorphine or Suboxone, doctors must undergo eight hours of training. Under federal rules, doctors are limited to offering only prescriptions to 275 patients. The limits used to be lower, and were either 30 or 100 patients.

Methadone: Costs

Methadone’s cost is low, generally a few dollars per dose. However, the costs of daily visits to receive the medicine, additional case management, and counseling bump the cost to between $10 and $20 per day. In one state, Medicaid paid $21 million in 2016 for treatment with methadone to the state’s certified programs. Often, individuals not covered by insurance pay cash for daily visits.

A man sits on a hillside to represent both methadone and opioid dependence.

Pros and Cons: Vivitrol vs. Methadone vs. Suboxone

Vivitrol: Pros and Cons

Vivitrol is favored, especially in criminal justice circles, because it is not an opioid and can’t be abused. It can also be prescribed by any doctor and administered by nurses and other medical professionals, without specialized training. Patients must be fully detoxed from opioids to avoid severe withdrawals when receiving the shot. One concern with Vivitrol is that patients on the drug could be at increased risk for prescription and illicit opioid overdose when they stop using the medication.

Smaller studies on closely-watched patients involved with the criminal justice system have not shown increased deaths, though no one has carefully studied overdose deaths after the medication is discontinued. One study in Australia on Vivitrol found patients on oral naltrexone were 44 percent more likely to die from an overdose after discontinuing the use of the drug.

Although that study is a decade old, it speaks to the sensitivity of a person’s body to relapsing after being weaned from the drug Vivitrol. The consequences of relapsing while on Vivitrol are extremely dire. There’s a high risk of death. The medication carries a warning about the increased overdose risk along with health risks for patients with severe liver issues.

Methadone: Pros and Cons

Since it is a powerful opioid, methadone is a full opioid agonist and is tightly controlled because of the potential for abuse. In fact, it is a Schedule II controlled substance It also is the most well-researched of the opioid dependence treatments and is proven safe when used properly.

Suboxone: Pros and Cons

Proponents of buprenorphine treatment, like Suboxone, said they are proven to work as evidenced by hundreds of carefully managed studies. So much so, that the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Veterans Affairs have all endorsed buprenorphine as their preferred method as the first line of treatment for addiction. That said, they are still a Schedule III controlled substance — meaning the drug can lead to substance abuse and even a mild suboxone addiction if not administered correctly.

But these endorsements are not the last word in the battle, and the suboxone and methadone argument continues. Buprenorphine-based medications, however, are not popular in criminal justice circles because defendants have used them to avoid positive drug tests. Further, there have been problems with this drug finding its way into prison systems. In some cases, this drug is being sold on the streets.

With this drug, careful monitoring of patients is necessary while using the medication to ensure the appropriate dose is being given. Some also complain that not enough doctors are trained and willing to prescribe buprenorphine and that some who do charge cash for visits must hassle with burdensome pre-authorization requirements from insurance.

Overall, medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based form of addiction treatment that has been shown to treat opioid use disorders by helping ease withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and more.

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Finding the Right Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

At Renaissance Recovery, we offer medication-assisted treatment administration to help with drug abuse and opioid dependence. Our treatment centers understand that using various forms of MAT can help clients get through the uncomfortable opioid withdrawal symptoms that are prevalent during early sobriety.

If you or a loved one need help with opioid withdrawal and opiate addiction, reach out to our team at Renaissance Recovery to learn more about Orange County detox and opioid treatment program in California and get in contact with a healthcare professional.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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