Buprenorphine and methadone are both opioid-based medications that are used by addiction treatment providers for the treatment of opioid use disorder.
Although they have similarities, buprenorphine and methadone are not the same.
Here, you’ll find a breakdown of the key similarities and differences between methadone and buprenorphine.
What Is Buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to treat opioid use disorder.
Other names for buprenorphine include:
- Suboxone (with naloxone)
- Zubsolv (with naloxone)
- Bunavail (with naloxone)
What Is Methadone?
Methadone is a long-acting, synthetic opioid drug. Like buprenorphine, methadone is also FDA-approved to treat opioid use disorder as a medication-assisted treatment.
Other names for methadone include:
What Methadone And Buprenorphine Have In Common
Methadone and buprenorphine are similar in several ways. Here is a breakdown of what the two types of drugs have in common:
Both Are Opioids
Methadone and buprenorphine are opioid-based medications. This allows them to help treat symptoms of opioid withdrawal in people who are detoxing from opioids.
Both can also reduce opioid cravings.
Both Treat Opioid Addiction
Both methadone and buprenorphine are FDA-approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder (also known as opioid addiction).
They are medication-assisted treatments, used alongside behavioral therapy and psychosocial support.
Similar Side Effects
Due to their chemical similarities, methadone and buprenorphine share similar side effects, including drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, and constipation.
Both Can Be Taken For Long-Term Use
Methadone and buprenorphine are both used as maintenance treatments for people who are recovering from opioid use disorder.
Both medications can be safe and effective for long-term use when taken as prescribed. Increased tolerance and physical dependence may occur.
What Are The Differences Between Methadone And Buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine and methadone are not the same, despite their similarities. Here are some of the main differences between the two:
Different Mechanism Of Action
Methadone is a different type of opioid medication than buprenorphine. Methadone is a full opioid agonist, whereas buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist.
This means that, unlike methadone, buprenorphine does not fully activate the body’s opioid receptors.
Because of this, buprenorphine produces weaker effects and has a lower potential for misuse.
Methadone Is An Older Drug
Methadone has been used for the treatment of opioid addiction in the United States since 1972. Researchers discovered it could effectively reduce heroin use and treat heroin withdrawal.
Buprenorphine, on the other hand, is a newer drug. It was first approved as a medication for opioid use disorder in 2002.
Buprenorphine Can Be Taken At Home
One of the key differences between methadone and buprenorphine is access to these medications.
Generally, people who take methadone for opioid use disorder must visit a clinic to receive it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this restriction was loosened somewhat for eligible patients.
Unlike methadone, buprenorphine can be prescribed and dispensed in a physician’s office, or be picked up at a pharmacy to be taken at home.
Buprenorphine Has A Ceiling Effect
Unlike methadone, buprenorphine has what’s known as a ceiling effect. This means that, once a certain dosage threshold is passed, the effects of buprenorphine plateau.
Because of this, the side effects of buprenorphine are weaker than those of methadone, which does not have a ceiling effect.
The only form of methadone approved for the treatment of opioid use disorder is methadone in its generic form. It is taken daily in liquid, diskette, or powder form.
Buprenorphine is different. It can be prescribed in its generic form, under one of its brand names, or in combination with naloxone. It comes in the form of a dissolvable film or tablet.
Cost Of Medication
Methadone is cheaper in cost than buprenorphine, because it is an older drug. Even more expensive are buprenorphine/naloxone combination products, like Suboxone and Zubsolv.
Because of this, methadone is preferred among some treatment providers as a more cost-effective solution for treating opioid addiction.
Use During Pregnancy
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that both methadone and buprenorphine are first-line therapy options for opioid use disorder during pregnancy.
However, some research does show that buprenorphine use is less likely to cause low birth weight and is associated with a lower incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
Combination products containing buprenorphine and naloxone are not recommended for opioid use disorder in people who are pregnant, due to a lack of sufficient evidence to demonstrate safety.
Which Medication Is More Effective For Opioid Addiction?
Both methadone and buprenorphine are effective for the treatment of opioid addiction, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Some individuals who have taken both medications prefer one over the other, due to differences in side effects, ease of access, or other preferences.
Find Medication-Assisted Treatment For Opioid Addiction Today
Methadone and buprenorphine can both effectively treat opioid addiction and help individuals achieve long-term recovery.
If you’re looking for medication-assisted treatment for yourself or a loved one, call our helpline today.
We will help you find a drug rehab center that offers medications for opioid use disorder near you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder Before, During, and After Pregnancy
- Drug And Alcohol Dependence—Cost Analysis of Clinic and Office-Based Treatment of Opioid Dependence: Results with Methadone and Buprenorphine in Clinically Stable Patients
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—Buprenorphine
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—Methadone
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—How effective are medications to treat opioid use disorder?