Label for prescription Suboxone.

What Is Suboxone? Options to Treat Opioid Use Disorder

What is Suboxone? It’s the brand name for a prescription medication that contains buprenorphine and naloxone, and it is used to treat addiction to opioid drugs or narcotic painkillers. It’s important to note that Suboxone isn’t meant for treating pain unrelated to an opioid addiction problem. Subutex, by comparison, is a similar branded product (but without naloxone in it); it’s just buprenorphine with none of the other ingredients found in Suboxone.

The active ingredients in Suboxone reduce physical dependence on opioids. The naloxone in the medication blocks the effects caused by opiate painkillers, and Suboxone comes as sublingual tablets or a sublingual film that dissolves under the tongue.

Medical providers use Suboxone as a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that close to 30% of those who received illicit drug use treatment within the past year received MAT, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

FDA-Approved Opioid Addiction Treatment

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Suboxone in 2002 as medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. As a schedule three drug, doctors must be certified to treat opioid addiction before prescribing this medication.

As previously mentioned, Suboxone is a combination of two drugs: buprenorphine and naloxone.

What Is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a prescription drug used as a replacement treatment for heroin and methadone dependence.

This treatment prevents withdrawal, helps stabilize the lives of those dependent on other drugs, and reduces drug use-related harm. For people utilizing buprenorphine for withdrawal from heroin and methadone, the desire to use heroin is reduced.

What Is Naloxone?

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system. It can also quickly reverse an opioid overdose.

Essentially, naloxone attaches to opioid receptors and blocks the effects of other opioids. If a person experiences slowed breathing (or it stops altogether) as a result of an opioid overdose, this medicine rapidly restores their breathing to normal.

It’s important to note that naloxone cannot restore breathing for those without opioids in their systems, and alone, naloxone is not a treatment for substance use disorder.

If you or a loved one struggles with opioid addiction, having naloxone on hand could mean the difference between life or death. Even with this emergency medicine, 911 should still be called to the scene, as it only reduces overdose symptoms for 30 to 90 minutes. Opioids remain in the body much longer than that, so it is possible to feel the effects of the overdose after the naloxone wears off. Plus, stronger opioids may need multiple doses — and healthcare professionals should be the only ones making that call. Examples of opioids include heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine.

Methadone vs. Suboxone

Methadone and Suboxone both have their place in the treatment of opioid addiction, but they each approach the problem differently. They are distinct medications with different effects and side effects.

Methadone is a full opioid agonist, which means that it binds to the same receptors that other opioids (like heroin or OxyContin) do. This makes methadone a tool for detoxification and withdrawal because it can ease cravings and opioid withdrawal symptoms. Without causing a high, methadone affects the same parts of the brain as other opioids while reducing pain. It is primarily used for at least 12 months.

Methadone is more addictive than Suboxone and can cause withdrawal symptoms if suddenly taken off the medication. Because of this risk, people often stay on methadone for life to reduce the chance of relapsing.

The make-up of Suboxone makes it less addictive. Plus, Suboxone’s effects come on strong at first and then lessen after a certain dosage. This helps prevent an overdose.

It is possible to overdose from both methadone and Suboxone (although Suboxone is less likely). Be sure to follow all medical advice from your healthcare provider to ensure safe use and prevent serious side effects or an overdose.

Buprenorphine/Naloxone Side Effects

Suboxone treatment can lessen the effects of opioid withdrawal, decrease cravings for opioids, and prevent relapse. Your doctor will determine the appropriate treatment plan for you, but it’s important to know the effects of any medication before taking them.

Common Side Effects of Suboxone:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Back pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness or fainting

Disclaimer: As with any prescription drug, users should be aware of the common side effects or potential allergies. An extreme allergic reaction can be deadly.

Treatment Plans Are Here

Opioid dependence and drug abuse are medical conditions.

Drug addiction is a disease and should be seen as any other illness. There are treatment programs out there that can support your journey and lead you to a healthier life. MAT, behavioral therapy, support groups, and more can be a substantial help in your recovery. At Meridian HealthCare, we’re here for you when you’re ready to make a change. Call our care team to get the help you deserve.

*If this is an emergency, please call 9-1-1.