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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

The number of people hooked on opioids, such as morphine, heroin, and codeine, has increased dramatically in the past decade. Doctors and researchers are looking at ways to address substance abuse and help people safely withdraw from these drugs. Medication-assisted therapy is one tool in the arsenal.

These treatment methods commonly include the use of buprenorphine and long-acting naltrexone.

Both can be prescribed by a health care provider and are recommended as part of a comprehensive substance abuse program that includes counseling and behavioral therapy. Each works differently to help you deal with addiction.

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What’s the Difference Between Buprenorphine and Naltrexone?

How Buprenorphine Works

Buprenorphine produces similar feelings of a high on opiates but at a much weaker level. This helps people avoid withdrawal symptoms and manage cravings so they can safely lower their dependency on the drugs. Because buprenorphine still delivers a small high, it does have the potential for abuse. However, it is much less likely that someone will overdose.

It is often prescribed by a doctor as a sublingual tablet, meaning you put it under your tongue and let it dissolve. The tablet also contains naloxone, a medication that blocks the effects of opioids and helps reduce dependency. Naloxone is what first responders administer when someone has overdosed.

How Naltrexone Works

Naltrexone is an extended-release injection medication. It is given once a month and blocks the high from opioids. This is intended to reduce cravings for the drug. Naltrexone can cause serious side effects if you take opioids while using it. People need to be clean from opioids for at least seven to 10 days before starting this therapy.

Unlike buprenorphine, naltrexone doesn’t carry a risk of misuse or overdose. However, relapse can be riskier after therapy when naltrexone ends. The medication may make you less tolerant to the same doses of drugs you were taking before trying to quit.

Both medications carry similar gastrointestinal side effects, nervousness, and difficulty sleeping.

Finding a Drug Treatment Program

Any attempts to withdraw from prescription or illegal drugs should be done under the supervision of a medical professional. Medication-assisted therapy with buprenorphine or long-acting naltrexone has been proven an effective part of a treatment program that includes psychological counseling.

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About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.