Suboxone contains buprenorphine and is used in the treatment of opioid addiction. It is used to reduce withdrawal symptoms in people recovering from addictions to heroin, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a combination opioid partial agonist-antagonist drug. It contains buprenorphine and naloxone.

Buprenorphine is a mild opioid analgesic that has partial agonist activity. It can be used alone to treat mild to moderate levels of physical pain. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist. The combined medication binds to opioid receptors to block the activity of any opioid agonists that the patient might come in contact with or take.

The formulation called Suboxone became available in 2002. It was approved by the FDA for the treatment of narcotic addiction. This became the first drug since methadone that could effectively manage patients with an opioid addiction.

What Suboxone Users Should Know

Over the short-term, Suboxone acts like a depressant in the body by slowing a person’s mentation and vital signs. It is relatively long-acting with side effects and therapeutic effects that last up to three days. It is also considered to have fewer adverse effects than methadone.

As a pain reliever, Suboxone is about 20 to 30 times more effective than morphine. It has fewer euphoric effects than full agonist medications like morphine. Users may feel a sense of well-being, decreased stress and relaxation when taking the drug.

Suboxone has the potential to decrease withdrawal symptoms from heroin, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl. It is useful for patients who sincerely want to stop taking these substances but don’t want to have to face the side effects of withdrawal or cravings.

When a person is prescribed Suboxone to treat opioid addiction, the levels of the drug can be carefully monitored. The drug can also be gradually withdrawn as the patient becomes more emotionally and physically capable of stopping their opioid drug use.

Suboxone was once available as a sublingual pill. It is now most often used as a sublingual film or strip. It can be placed under the tongue or on the side of the cheek so that it dissolves quickly without having to swallow anything with water.

Risks of Suboxone

Suboxone is not without risk. It cannot be taken with alcohol or benzodiazepines, other depressant drugs. The combination of these drugs and Suboxone can lead to lethargy, respiratory depression and even death from cardiorespiratory collapse.

While Suboxone is used in addiction management of opioid dependence, it can lead to its own dependence and tolerance. Stopping the drug has minor side effects that include joint pain, insomnia, diarrhea, jitters, irritability and dilated pupils.

Suboxone can cause severe withdrawal symptoms in a patient who has already taken heroin or another strong opioid drug if it is taken too soon after the last dose of the full agonist opioid. Long-term abuse or misuse of Suboxone include physical and psychological consequences.

Physical side effects of long-term abuse include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Decreased pain tolerance

Psychological side effects of long-term abuse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of social isolation
  • Social difficulties
  • Increased chance of depression

Long-term abuse can also lead to financial problems, difficulty taking care of daily activities and problems with relationships. This is why it is important to take Suboxone as recommended by a doctor qualified to administer the medication and to monitor its use.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Kent Hoffman, D.O. has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/14/2019