What Is Suboxone?

May 15, 2024

Discover what is Suboxone, its uses in treating opioid addiction, side effects, and how it compares to other treatments.

Understanding Suboxone

As we delve into the world of addiction treatment medications, one key player is Suboxone. To understand its role and impact, we need to define what it is and how it works.

Definition of Suboxone

Suboxone is a prescription medication that is commonly used in the treatment of opioid use disorder. This medication is a combination of two drugs - buprenorphine and naloxone. Each of these components plays a crucial role in managing the symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal and reducing a patient’s dependence on opioids in the long term [1].

Suboxone contains four parts buprenorphine to one part naloxone. The buprenorphine component is an opioid itself, but it's a partial opioid agonist. This means it stimulates the opioid receptors in the brain, but to a much lesser degree than full agonists like heroin or oxycodone. It tricks the brain into thinking it's receiving a full opioid dose, thus helping to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

On the other hand, naloxone is an opioid antagonist. It blocks opioid receptors and reverses the euphoric and sedative effects of other opioids. This discourages misuse of the medication [2].

Mechanism of Action

Suboxone works by simultaneously suppressing withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of other opioids. The buprenorphine component of Suboxone attaches to the same opioid receptors in the brain that drugs like heroin, morphine, and oxycodone do. By doing so, it suppresses the withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with the discontinuation of these drugs.

Naloxone, the other component of Suboxone, is included to deter people from trying to misuse the medication. If Suboxone is taken as prescribed (under the tongue), the naloxone component has no effect. However, if someone tries to inject Suboxone, the naloxone will cause immediate withdrawal symptoms, thereby deterring misuse [1].

Together, these two components work synergistically to manage cravings, suppress withdrawal symptoms, and reduce the likelihood of misuse, making Suboxone an effective tool in the treatment of opioid use disorder.

In conclusion, Suboxone is a vital medication in the treatment of opioid use disorder. By understanding what Suboxone is and how it works, individuals can better grasp its role in the process of recovery and the management of withdrawal symptoms. This knowledge is crucial for anyone seeking a comprehensive understanding of addiction treatment options.

Medical Uses of Suboxone

Unraveling the facts around Suboxone, one of the most common questions tends to be, "What is Suboxone used for?" Understanding the medical applications of this medication is critical for anyone seeking information about opioid use disorder treatment.

Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Suboxone is a prescription medication approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). It contains two key components, buprenorphine and naloxone, which work together to prevent withdrawal symptoms caused by opioid addiction [3].

Suboxone is commonly used to treat various opioid use cases, such as prescription medications like OxyContin, heroin, or fentanyl, under the determination of prescribing providers. It forms part of an integrated treatment approach that often includes behavioral therapy and treatment programs to enhance the chances of lasting sobriety.

It's worth noting that Suboxone is one of the most common medications used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) alongside buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These medications work to normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and normalize body functions without the negative and euphoric effects of the substance used.

Effectiveness and Benefits

The effectiveness of Suboxone in treating opioid use disorder is backed by substantial clinical evidence. When combined with behavioral therapy and treatment programs, it significantly increases the likelihood of lasting sobriety [3].

One of the key benefits of Suboxone is its ability to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms that often accompany opioid addiction. By doing so, it can help individuals recover more comfortably and fully engage in their treatment programs. Another significant advantage is that Suboxone can block the euphoric effects of opioids, reducing the risk of relapse.

In terms of comparative effectiveness, Suboxone, along with buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, are used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) related to short-acting opioids such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

In summary, Suboxone plays a vital role in the treatment of opioid use disorder, helping individuals to manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and move towards a path of recovery. The use of Suboxone must always be under the guidance of a healthcare provider, and it is most effective when combined with comprehensive treatment programs that address the underlying causes of addiction.

Prescribing Suboxone

The process of prescribing Suboxone, a prescription medication approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), has seen several changes in recent years. The medication, which contains buprenorphine and naloxone to prevent withdrawal symptoms caused by opioid addiction, is subject to specific regulations and requirements.

FDA Approval and Regulations

Suboxone was approved by the FDA for the treatment of OUD. The medication contains buprenorphine, a controlled substance per federal laws. Doctors who prescribe Suboxone must have approval from regulatory agencies [3].

Prior to December 29, 2022, doctors needed an "X-waiver" to prescribe medications with buprenorphine. This requirement was eliminated, and doctors now need a current Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration to prescribe Suboxone [5].

Changes in Prescription Requirements

Changes in legislation in 2023 have expanded access to Suboxone, allowing medical providers with a DEA license and Schedule III authority to write prescriptions for it. Doctors with a current DEA registration with Schedule III authority can prescribe medications for OUD if permitted by state law. After June 27, 2023, doctors asking for new DEA licenses or renewing old ones must meet certain requirements [5].

Doctors can prescribe Suboxone via telemedicine. Patients can use their computer to meet with a doctor licensed to provide telehealth in their state and get a prescription for Suboxone. The entire appointment process can be conducted from home [5].

Patients can get a prescription for Suboxone from a doctor with DEA Schedule III authority in various settings, including clinics, hospitals, online businesses, or other medical facilities. The federal X-waiver program no longer exists, and doctors are not required to apply for it [5].

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new practice guidelines on April 27, 2021, allowing providers, including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and certified nurse midwives, to prescribe buprenorphine to up to 30 patients without having to complete a 8-hour (for physicians) or 24-hour (for other providers) training normally required to receive a waiver from the DEA.

Providers wishing to prescribe to up to 100 patients will have to complete existing training and qualification requirements. The new guidelines aim to increase OUD treatment capacity, especially among primary care providers, to address the rising opioid-related overdose fatalities.

Suboxone Dosage and Administration

Understanding the correct dosage and administration of Suboxone is crucial for individuals using this medication to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). Always consult a healthcare professional for guidelines specific to your needs.

Forms of Suboxone

Suboxone is available in two forms: a tablet and a sublingual film. Both forms are designed to dissolve in the mouth and offer comparable results. The sublingual film allows patients to taper their dose if they aim to gradually wean off the medication, but this should always be carried out under a doctor's guidance [1].

Form Description
Tablet Dissolves in the mouth
Sublingual Film Dissolves in the mouth, allows for dosage tapering

Treatment Phases and Monitoring

Suboxone treatment generally follows four phases: induction, stabilization, maintenance, and taper. These phases are designed to help individuals transition back to a normal lifestyle while addressing addiction [2].

  1. Induction: This phase begins after a brief period of abstinence from opioids. Typically administered under a healthcare provider's supervision, Suboxone is introduced when withdrawal symptoms begin to appear.
  2. Stabilization: This phase begins once a patient has discontinued or significantly reduced their opioid use and no longer has cravings or experiences withdrawal symptoms. The Suboxone dosage may be adjusted during this phase to find the minimum effective dose.
  3. Maintenance: During the maintenance phase, the individual continues to take a steady dose of Suboxone. The length of this phase can vary greatly, from months to years, depending on the individual's needs and response to the medication.
  4. Taper: The final phase of treatment is the gradual reduction of the Suboxone dose, with the ultimate goal of discontinuing its use. This phase should always be conducted under the supervision of a healthcare provider to manage withdrawal symptoms effectively.

Depending on various factors such as age, weight, and metabolism, Suboxone can take between 9 to 14 days to be fully flushed out of the system after the final dose. This prolonged presence in the body underscores the importance of regular monitoring during Suboxone treatment.

As with any medication used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), it's important to consult with a healthcare provider before stopping its use. Suboxone, like buprenorphine, is safe to use for months, years, or even a lifetime. Regular check-ins with healthcare providers ensure the medication's effectiveness and manage any potential side effects.

Safety and Side Effects of Suboxone

While Suboxone is a highly effective medication for treating opioid use disorder, understanding its potential side effects and risks is critical. This section will cover respiratory depression risks and the potential for overdose and misuse associated with Suboxone.

Respiratory Depression Risk

One of the most severe side effects of Suboxone is respiratory depression. As a partial opioid agonist, the drug can slow down an individual's breathing, which can occur in 1-10% of patients. This condition can lead to a lack of oxygen in the body, which can have serious consequences. If a patient experiences respiratory depression, they should seek immediate medical help. (American Addiction Centers)

Side Effect Prevalence Treatment
Respiratory Depression 1-10% of patients Immediate medical attention

Overdose Potential and Misuse

Suboxone has a lower overdose potential compared to other opioids, thanks to its "ceiling effect." This means that exceeding the intended dosage ceiling (24-32 mg per day) will not produce euphoric effects but could lead to potential side effects. However, despite this safeguard, misuse of Suboxone by taking too high a dose or injecting it can still lead to addiction and overdose risks. As such, the medication is only available under supervision in a licensed program. (EPIC Health Partners)

Overdose Risk Overdose Ceiling Misuse
Lower potential 24-32 mg per day Can lead to addiction and overdose

It's crucial to note that buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, must be administered at a sufficiently high dose, generally 16 mg per day or more, to be effective in treating opioid use disorders. Lower doses for short treatment durations have led to treatment failure and the mistaken belief that the medication is ineffective. Also, flexible dose regimens of buprenorphine and doses of buprenorphine of 6 mg or below have been found to be less effective than methadone at maintaining patients in treatment, highlighting the importance of evidence-based dosing regimens for these medications. (NIDA)

Effective Dose Importance
Generally 16 mg per day or more Ensures treatment success and patient retention

These safety considerations emphasize the need for proper use and monitoring while using Suboxone for opioid use disorder treatment. It is always recommended to follow healthcare professionals' advice and guidelines when using this medication.

Suboxone Compared to Other Treatments

When discussing opioid use disorder (OUD) treatments, it's important to consider the different medications available and how they compare. In this section, we'll compare Suboxone to other treatments, such as Methadone and Naltrexone, and discuss long-term use considerations.

Comparison with Methadone and Naltrexone

Suboxone, Methadone, and Naltrexone are among the most common medications used to treat opioid use disorder. These medications work by normalizing brain chemistry, blocking the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, relieving physiological cravings, and normalizing body functions without the negative and euphoric effects of the substance used.

Here's a brief comparison of these medications in relation to Suboxone:

Medication Description
Suboxone Contains Buprenorphine/naloxone. Normalizes brain chemistry and blocks the euphoric effects of opioids.
Methadone Long-acting opioid agonist. Normalizes brain chemistry and blocks the euphoric effects of opioids.
Naltrexone Opioid antagonist. Blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and reduces cravings.

According to NIDA, the Buprenorphine/naloxone combination (found in Suboxone) and an extended-release Naltrexone formulation are similarly effective in treating opioid use disorder once treatment is initiated. However, initiating Naltrexone treatment among active opioid users can be more challenging due to the need for full detoxification before starting the medication.

Long-Term Use and Considerations

As per SAMHSA, Buprenorphine, one of the medications used in Suboxone, is safe to use for months, years, or even a lifetime. As with any medication, it is recommended to consult a doctor before discontinuing its use.

The FDA has approved several different medications, including Suboxone, to treat alcohol use disorders (AUD) and opioid use disorders (OUD). These medications are evidence-based treatment options that do not just substitute one drug for another. Therefore, long-term use of these medications, under the supervision of a healthcare provider, can be a part of a comprehensive recovery plan.

Understanding the nuances of these treatments helps in making informed decisions about OUD management. Always consult with healthcare professionals when considering these treatments, as they can provide guidance based on individual circumstances and needs.


[1]: https://www.recoverycare.org/blog/what-is-suboxone-4-facts-every-patient-should-know

[2]: https://www.epichealthpartners.com/2021/11/26/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-suboxone/

[3]: https://www.addictioncenter.com/treatment/medications/suboxone/

[4]: https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders

[5]: https://www.bicyclehealth.com/suboxone-faq/prescribing-requirements

[6]: https://nashp.org/feds-revise-buprenorphine-prescribing-requirements-again/