Suboxone is a medication approved by the FDA to treat addiction to opiates including heroin, morphine, or prescription pain meds. While this medication can be incredibly helpful in assisting patients to stop using these drugs, it also has the potential to be abused itself.
Of the handful of medications available to treat opiate addiction, suboxone has shown to be one of the most effective treatments for opiate addiction to date. Because suboxone acts similarly to opiates though, it can also become a drug of abuse.
What Is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a medication used to treat addiction to opiates such as heroin or prescription pain medication.
Taken sublingually (under the tongue), suboxone is a combination of two medications, buprenorphine and naloxone.
- Buprenorphine – this is the primary ingredient in Suboxone. It attaches to the same brain receptors that other opiates would. We call this drug a partial opioid agonist, as it partially fills the opioid receptors in the brain, thus reducing the cravings and withdrawals faced when stopping the use of opiates. This provides a safer and more comfortable way for a patient or client to stop using heroin or pills.
- Naloxone – This medication is known as an opioid antagonist. Antagonists block any kind of substance that would excite the opioid receptors in the brain. As a result, naloxone reverses the effect of any opiates in the body. Including Naloxone with buprenorphine is meant to make it useless or uncomfortable for a patient who’s using this medication to also use an opiate. There won’t be any high when using opiates because the naloxone will just push them away.
Can Suboxone Be Abused?
Suboxone does have the potential to be abused because it is an opioid-based medication. That said, many people use suboxone successfully and safely to get off of opiates and find relief from opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Suboxone abuse can occur when a person is using suboxone without being under the supervision of a medical provider. When suboxone is used outside of a complete substance use treatment plan, people can become dependent on the medication in unhealthy ways.
Using the drug in ways other than indicated, for example, snorting crushed pills, chewing pills or strips, or injecting a solution made from the pills, is one way to know that someone is abusing suboxone. This medication is meant to be taken under the tongue in a controlled manner. Using it in other ways is an obvious sign that there is an issue.
Abuse of Suboxone can also cause an increase in side effects, which include anxiety, depression, low fever, headaches, muscle pain, and nausea. Continued abuse of Suboxone can lead to liver damage.
Is Suboxone Addictive?
Suboxone does have an addictive quality. Because this medication sticks to those opiate receptors in the brain, it needs to stay there in order for the patient to stay comfortable. A quick reduction or discontinuation of suboxone will lead to withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are similar to those that would occur with any opiate and include cold and flu-like symptoms, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, and insomnia.
Because the goal is to get a person off of opiates with the least amount of discomfort as possible, replacing opiates with a safer alternative, Suboxone, is the first step. The next step is stabilization, and then finally a slow taper off of the suboxone.
People who mis-use Suboxone may find the process of tapering off of Suboxone difficult, which could lead back to opiate use. It’s important that suboxone is tapered with the help of a medical provider who understands addiction and suboxone.
Other Problems Associated with Suboxone
Most addictions and medical experts will agree that Suboxone is an excellent treatment for opiate addiction, however it isn’t without any risk, and can cause uncomfortable side effects. These side effects can range from mild to very uncomfortable and should be expected by most patients. They will lessen over time and can be managed with other medications or adjustments to dosage.
Although Suboxone is a very helpful medication used in substance use treatment, some people purchase this medication illegally in an attempt to get high. There is a market for suboxone, and doctors are often concerned that strips and pills that they prescribe will be diverted into the community. For this reason, patients prescribed suboxone are often held to very high standards in order to continue this treatment, including regular drug tests, pill counts, and check-ins. For some, these rules may seem harsh, but they are important.
Suboxone treatment or use can last a long time. It can take years for a person to successfully come off of suboxone, whether it was prescribed legally or abused. This is because it sticks so firmly to those opiate receptors, and tolerance will develop. It requires a long and slow taper in order to reduce.
Suboxone Drug Interactions
Suboxone taken with other opiates or at high doses can cause severe respiratory distress. Be sure to inform your doctor of all medications and other drugs that you may be taking. Do not take Suboxone if you are pregnant. There are other options for pregnant women looking to stop using opiates.
Can All Doctors Prescribe Suboxone?
Prescribers must be specially trained and certified to prescribe Suboxone, and the government places limits on how many providers and how many patients a provider can prescribe to. For this reason, it is important to find a medical practice or doctor who is both certified to prescribe Suboxone and knowledgeable in addiction.
In our communities, most medical providers are conscientious when it comes to prescribing drugs, but there have been instances when “cash only” Suboxone practices show up and make us question if that doctor is really trying to help. Physicians should never prescribe Suboxone without knowing a patient’s complete medical and drug use history and should require that patients are also linked with addiction treatment or rehab while taking Suboxone.
Getting Help for Suboxone Addiction
If you or your loved one is suffering from addiction or mis-use of Suboxone, there is hope and help for you.
Suboxone is approved only for the treatment of addiction and should be used only in conjunction with an effective treatment program that includes addiction counseling and regular drug monitoring.
If you or someone you love is using suboxone without the help of an addiction program or is using the drug in some way other than placing it under the tongue (snorting, shooting, chewing), these are good indications that help is needed soon.
At Hawaii Island Recovery we can help you recover from an addiction to Suboxone or other opiates in a peaceful, nurturing environment. We offer medically supervised detox, skilled counseling, group therapy, and family therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment program to bring people struggling with drug abuse back to a stable place.