Suboxone is the brand name for a medication comprised of buprenorphine and naloxone.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Suboxone, along with Subutex (buprenorphine alone), in 2002.
As a result, Suboxone became the first opioid dependency drug that could be prescribed or dispensed at a physician’s office.
People can go to the doctor’s office for their opioid addiction treatment instead of a methadone clinic, which can be inconvenient and carry a stigma.
Suboxone is also billed as a safer alternative to methadone because of its ability to act as an abuse deterrent.
It is used to ease the cravings and symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal.
The drug can be taken as a tablet or film strip under the tongue or as a film strip between the cheek and gums.
Suboxone is also intended to be prescribed, along with counseling and behavioral therapy.
Despite its counteractive formulation, users have resorted to abusing Suboxone recreationally.
It has addictive properties that pose dangerous health risks, including death.
Suboxone is another treatment medication that has become a drug itself, abused outside of its intended purpose.
How Does Suboxone Work?
Suboxone works in the brain to treat opioid dependence, whether that addiction is to heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, or hydrocodone.
The buprenorphine component binds with opioid receptors, but only partially. Because it does not fully attach to them, it does not produce the rush of euphoria that other opioids induce. The naloxone is what makes Suboxone hard to abuse. When taken by itself, the naloxone competes with and blocks the effects of other opioids. It also brings sudden withdrawal symptoms, which can be uncomfortable.
The elements work in tandem to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms that result from opioid dependency.
Medical Uses Of Suboxone
Suboxone is employed in combination with counseling and therapy to treat people dependent on opioid medications, an approach referred to as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
According to this study, long-term treatment outcomes were better with Suboxone versus mere abstinence from opioids, and it also demonstrated a similar success rate as methadone.
What’s more, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) substantiates that report with its own study, which concludes that once drug treatment begins, a buprenorphine/naloxone combination is as effective as an extended release naltrexone formulation in treating opioid use disorder.
However, Suboxone is not intended for long-term, indefinite use. As this Psychology Today article attests, Suboxone not only possesses addictive qualities itself, but it also does not fully address why people get addicted to opioids.
“The main problem with the long term use of drugs like Suboxone, Subutex, and the older drug methadone, is that they never deal with the root causes of a person’s addiction,” states the Psychology Today report.
Other Drug And Alcohol Treatment Medications
Besides Suboxone, NIDA recognizes three other medications as effective treatments for opioid use disorders:
Methadone: The most widely known and oldest opioid treatment medication has a gradual onset of action, so its use does not generate the euphoric effects of notorious opioids and opiates like oxycodone and heroin. This formulation allows methadone to be employed as a maintenance medication. However, it is still subject to abuse.
Buprenorphine: This medication diminishes opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It works by only partially binding to opioid receptors, producing far weaker effects.
Naltrexone: This medication is an active opioid blocker. Thus, it blocks the euphoric effects of heroin, oxycodone, and codeine by binding and blocking opioid receptors.
There are other medications that have received FDA approval to treat drug and alcohol addiction.
According to WebMD, the following medications have been approved by the FDA to treat alcohol addiction:
Disulfiram: This is the first FDA-approved drug for alcohol use disorders. It works by altering the way your body processes alcohol. If you ingest alcohol while on this medication, it can cause you to get sick.
Naltrexone: While you can feel drunk on this medication, it works to the point where you will not experience the pleasure that comes from drinking.
Acamprosate: This medication eases alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, depression and restlessness.
Gabapentin and topiramate are seizure medications that are sometimes prescribed “off-label” to treat alcohol use disorders.
What are the Signs of Suboxone Addiction?
Suboxone was once considered the gold standard for opioid addiction. In fact, the Washington Post called it “the drug that could combat the heroin epidemic.” Yet, this so-called cure is being widely abused. So much so, that one watchdog group in 2017 warned that using Suboxone to treat the opioid crisis is like “switching seats on the Titanic.”
Suboxone exceeded commonly prescribed drugs like Viagra and Adderall in sales. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported a tenfold increase in the number of emergency room visits for buprenorphine medications. Plus, more than half of those 30,000 hospitalizations in one year were due to nonmedical use of the drug.
The perception is that Suboxone is safe because it is prescribed and lacks the potency of other opiates.
But that belief cannot be further from the truth. Suboxone can still produce feelings of euphoria, provide more energy and lethargy, and give users pinpoint pupils.
When that use morphs into dependency and addiction, it can cause hazardous consequences. Suboxone use can have the following serious side effects:
- Slurred speech
- Memory problems
- Muscle pain
- Frequent headaches
- Excessive sweating and fevers
- Sudden, unpredictable mood swings
- Nausea and gastrointestinal issues
When a user exhibits compulsive behaviors around any drug, that is when abuse devolves into full-blown dependency.
Someone who abuses Suboxone will neglect their responsibilities, relationships, and hobbies to procure and use the drug.
The addiction signs of Suboxone include:
- Taking the drug in ways that are inconsistent with its purpose
- Using it more often or in larger amounts than prescribed
- Taking Suboxone without a prescription or medical supervision
- Developing an increased tolerance to the effects of Suboxone
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using Suboxone
- Having a noticeable decline in work or academic performance
- Hiding or lying about your Suboxone use
- Becoming socially withdrawn and isolated
- Missing money or valuables to pay for Suboxone
- Feeling unable to function without using Suboxone
- Being unable to stop using Suboxone after many attempts
If you or a loved one exhibits these signs, it is important that you seek professional addiction treatment from an accredited provider to prevent overdose or permanent physical or mental damage.
Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms
Though Suboxone is thought to be a safer alternative to methadone, it can still be a drug of abuse, capable of producing its own set of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
According to Healthline, withdrawal symptoms include:
- Drug cravings
- Muscle aches
When someone experiences symptoms of withdrawal, it means their body only feels normal in the presence of the drug.
What is Involved in Suboxone Addiction Treatment?
The first step to treat any addiction, including Suboxone, is to start with medical detoxification. The detox is administered through medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which rids the body of Suboxone and any toxins present.
Detox helps to ease the painful symptoms that come with Suboxone and other opioid medication withdrawal.
Licensed medical staff will ensure that the process is safe and painless. The team is also experienced at handling the possible withdrawal complications that can come with detox.
The next step is to enter into an addiction recovery treatment program. Depending on the scope and severity of your addiction, you will be directed to enter into inpatient or outpatient treatment. While a detox directly addresses the physiological aspect of addiction, treatment recovery tackles the psychological component, the reasons behind your dependency.
At the inpatient or outpatient stage, you will have access to therapy and treatment. These services will allow you to discover the root cause of addiction and provide strategies to avoid relapse. At New Perspectives, we offer general outpatient, intensive outpatient, and a partial hospitalization treatment program.
The use of medical maintenance therapy for opioid addictions is common. If you are in treatment for a Suboxone addiction, then it is unlikely that it will be administered for your recovery, unless it helps you to taper down your use.
The services we offer in outpatient treatment include:
- Detoxification treatment
- Medical maintenance therapy
- Group therapy
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Motivational Interviewing
- Stress management
- Educational classes
- Relapse prevention planning
How Dangerous is Suboxone?
It is difficult to overdose on Suboxone, but it is not impossible, even with the inclusion of a deterrent like naloxone. A 2013 New York Times article referred to the case of a man who died from an overdose at age 25.
While it is true that Suboxone abuse will not threaten your breathing like heroin or oxycodone, users still risk respiratory depression, full organ shutdown, and even death. The presence of naloxone can reverse an overdose, but those risks increase dramatically when Suboxone is mixed with other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines.
Common Suboxone overdose symptoms include:
- Dangerously slow and shallow breathing
- Slowed reflexes
- Impaired coordination
- Inability to remain conscious
- Bluish skin around fingernails and lips
- Slowed heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
Because Suboxone can be prescribed in the form of a filmstrip, it does pose a substantial risk to children. A child who accidentally ingests buprenorphine is at risk for potentially fatal respiratory depression.
Suboxone Abuse Statistics
- In 2011, emergency room visits for the nonmedical use of buprenorphine were estimated at 21,483, nearly five times what they were in 2006.
- As of 2017, only about 35,064 of the 800,000 U.S. physicians (3%) have the necessary credentials to prescribe buprenorphine for addiction.
- Suboxone sales exceeded $1.55 billion in 2013.