Opioid addiction is challenging to beat, but with comprehensive treatment, anyone can recover. One of the most effective ways to treat opioid addiction is using medication-assisted treatment (MAT), an integrated approach combining behavioral therapy and counseling with FDA-approved medications like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.
Two of the most popular MAT medications are Vivitrol (naltrexone) and Sublocade (buprenorphine). Both of these are extended-release medications that come in the form of an injection. Although similar, there are some key differences between Vivitrol and Sublocade that may play a role in deciding which one is right for you.
What is Vivitrol?
Vivitrol is a medication used to treat opioid and alcohol dependence. It falls under the category of extended-release medications, administered by injection, and contains naltrexone. Vivitrol is designed to help prevent relapse in individuals who have already gone through detoxification and achieved initial abstinence from opioids or alcohol. It works by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain, thereby reducing the pleasurable effects of opioids and the craving for alcohol.
Vivitrol comes in the form of an intramuscular injection. It is typically administered in the buttocks and provides a stable dose of naltrexone that lasts in the body for about a month.
Vivitrol Side Effects
Common side effects of Vivitrol are:
- Pain, redness, or irritation at the injection site
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Joint pain
- Injection site reactions
Many people experience little to no side effects whatsoever.
What is Sublocade?
Sublocade is another medication used in the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD). Sublocade contains buprenorphine, a medication that belongs to the class of medications known as partial opioid agonists. Buprenorphine is also found in other medications like Suboxone and Subutex, but what sets Sublocade apart is its extended-release form.
Administered as a monthly injection, Sublocade gradually releases buprenorphine into the bloodstream over the course of a month, reducing the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that individuals with OUD often experience. Sublocade is given as a subcutaneous injection, meaning it is injected just below the skin.
After the shot is injected, it turns into a gel-like substance under the skin called a “depot.” The depot slowly shrinks throughout the month as buprenorphine is released into the body. By releasing a gradual, yet steady dose of buprenorphine, clients can avoid the ups and downs that are common when taking daily oral forms of buprenorphine.
Sublocade Side Effects
Common side effects of Sublocade are:
- Injection site reactions
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Pain in the mouth or throat
- Muscle pain
- Pain at the injection site
- Increased liver enzymes
- Runny or stuffy nose
How are Vivitrol and Sublocade Similar?
Vivitrol and Sublocade share some common characteristics, primarily because they are both used in the treatment of opioid dependence. Additionally, both medications are administered as monthly injections. This extended-release method ensures that individuals do not need to remember to take daily medications, which can help individuals adhere to their treatment plan.
Because both medications are designed to be administered once a month, they maintain consistency and prevent the daily fluctuations associated with oral medications, promoting a more stable and controlled recovery process. Both Vivitrol and Sublocade are administered by a healthcare provider in a medical setting, so there is virtually no risk of abuse or dependence.
Finally, Both medications are typically initiated after a patient has undergone the detoxification process and achieved initial abstinence from opioids. This is a critical step to avoid precipitating opioid withdrawal symptoms in the patient. Taking either Vivitrol or Sublocade too early can result in severe precipitated withdrawal symptoms.
Exploring the Differences Between Vivitrol and Sublocade
While Vivitrol and Sublocade share commonalities, they also have several differences that may influence the choice of medication in an individual’s addiction treatment plan. Key differences include:
- Mechanism of action – Vivitrol (naltrexone) operates as an opioid receptor antagonist, blocking the opioid receptors in the brain. On the other hand, Sublocade (buprenorphine) is a partial opioid agonist. It attaches to the same receptors but activates them to a lesser extent than a full agonist.
- Intended use – Vivitrol is approved by the FDA to treat both alcohol and opioid use disorders, however, Sublocade is only used to treat opioid use disorder.
- Type of injection – Vivitrol is an intramuscular injection so it is administered in the muscle. Sublocade is a subcutaneous injection so it is administered just under the skin.
- Initiation of treatment – People can start taking Vivitrol after they have fully detoxed from opioids or alcohol. Sublocade, however, requires an induction period. This means people must take an oral form of buprenorphine for at least seven days before transitioning to the Sublocade shot.
The choice between Vivitrol and Sublocade often involves individual patient preferences, the severity and duration of their addiction, and the recommendations of their healthcare providers. It’s essential for individuals to have open and honest discussions with their healthcare team to determine the most appropriate medication for them.
Learn More About Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a powerful tool that can be used to combat the opioid epidemic, reduce heavy drinking in people with alcohol use disorder, and help people who are struggling with addiction achieve a higher quality of life. While medications treat withdrawal symptoms and cravings, therapy and support groups can help you establish a foundation for your recovery.
To find out if you are eligible for MAT, speak with an admissions coordinator at Arise Treatment Center. Our team is dedicated to helping you find a treatment program that meets your needs and can set you up for long-term recovery. Call now to get started.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Naltrexone, Retrieved October 2023 from https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/naltrexone
- University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) Psychiatric Research Institute: What is Vivitrol? Retrieved October 2023 from https://psychiatry.uams.edu/research/center-for-addiction-research/what-is-vivitrol/
- National Library of Medicine: Buprenorphine extended-release injection (Sublocade), Retrieved October 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546461/
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA): FDA approves first once-monthly buprenorphine injection, a medication-assisted treatment option for opioid use disorder, Retrieved October 2023 from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-once-monthly-buprenorphine-injection-medication-assisted-treatment-option-opioid