Suboxone is two different drugs together — buprenorphine and naloxone — with two different half-lives. The drug employers and other entities will test for is buprenorphine, which is usually detectable within three to 12 days of your last use.
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a drug that combines buprenorphine and naloxone to address opioid addiction.
Buprenorphine itself is a partial opioid agonist, however. This means the drug still has some risk for abuse, specifically among people with a history of drug dependency — the group that most benefits from legitimate Suboxone use.
Suboxone’s naloxone component exists specifically to combat this. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it helps to shut down opioids’ effects.
When Suboxone is taken as prescribed, there is no sense of euphoria from use. The naloxone component remains dormant. If Suboxone is abused, naloxone is activated. This can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms fairly quickly.
How Long Does Suboxone Stay in the Body?
Suboxone contains a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone at a roughly 4:1 ratio. According to RxList, buprenorphine has an elimination half-life of 24 to 42 hours, and naloxone has an elimination half-life of two to 12 hours.
In simple terms, the buprenorphine in Suboxone will outlast the naloxone. While buprenorphine is indeed the partial opiate agonist component of the drug, this particular fact is not a major reason it is abused. Timing abuse around the half-life of the naloxone would be difficult for the majority of users, especially due to the desire for immediate gratification with substance abuse.
According to an article by Redwood Toxicology Laboratories, 95 percent of buprenorphine is expelled from the body within about six days. That does not mean it will be impossible to detect the use of buprenorphine after six days, although as with any drug testing, the more time that passes, the less of a drug is in the body.
Alere Toxicology, a drug testing lab, reports on the three most common ways one might be tested for buprenorphine use: an oral fluid test, a urine test, and a hair test. Each of these methods has some upsides, with urine testing being the most commonly used method for testing.
- Saliva has a detection window of one to two days.
- Beyond being arguably the least invasive testing method, requiring a simple mouth swab, it is also the least likely to be recommended due to its short detection window.
- This test has a detection window of one to three days for a therapeutic dose of buprenorphine.
- It has a detection window of 10 to 12 days for a maintenance dose of buprenorphine.
- For the purposes of determining if a person is compliant with a given policy or law, urine testing is usually the best option.
- This has a detection window of 30 days or more.
- Generally, it takes about 14 days after drug use for it to be detected in hair. The affected hair must have time to grow away from the scalp.
- Hair testing is useful if someone chronically abuses drugs, but it is not necessarily an indicator that they are still abusing drugs.
Defining the Detection Window
To clarify, the “detection window” is reliant on a number of factors.
Generally speaking, infrequent and light use will be more difficult to detect than heavy use. Chronic use can potentially extend detection windows, but this fact tends to be irrelevant, as the nature of chronic use means the person has likely recently used the drug. The specific ranges given are only one lab’s estimates, although they are roughly in line with other estimates.
Screening for buprenorphine will usually be for Suboxone abuse. Suboxone itself has legitimate uses.
For obvious reasons, if you believe you are going to be tested for drugs, report any prescription medications you are using.
If there is a concern you might be abusing the drug, you might be asked for proof from a doctor that it is a legitimate prescription.
Depending on local laws and the circumstances of your testing, you may or may not be legally required to test.
However, refusal to test is generally treated as a failure for that test. This could result in getting fired or other penalties.
If you believe you have been mistreated or unfair demands have been made of you, familiarize yourself with local laws. Consider consulting a professional to learn more about your options.