How is Suboxone Used to Treat Opioid Addiction?

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The opioid epidemic has been raging a deadly war in the United States for over two decades. 

In the late 90s, Big Pharma readily reassured doctors that their patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers, so they started doling out prescriptions at greater rates than ever before. Unsurprisingly, this led to widespread misuse of these highly dangerous medications (e.g. natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone), and overdose rates began to steadily increase.

Flash forward twenty years and, and this avoidable plague has only gained momentum. In 2019 alone, over 10 million Americans misused opioids, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl. Today, synthetic opioids are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States. 

While the mortality related to opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels, we have also seen a massive uptick in the number of individuals seeking treatment.

 

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What is Medication Assisted Treatment?

Three million American citizens have had or currently suffer from opioid use disorder (OUD), and more than 500,000 in the United States are dependent on heroin.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses a combination of prescription medications, counseling, and behavioral therapies to treat opioid addiction, sustain recovery, and prevent overdose.

Medications for opioid use disorder, also known as MOUD, have been shown to reduce the risk of fatal overdoses by approximately 50%. Furthermore, studies have found that MOUD is also effective at reducing the risk of nonfatal overdoses, which can be highly traumatic and medically dangerous.

In the face of the United State’s harrowing drug epidemic, one of the primary addiction recovery methods for medication-assisted treatment is a prescription drug called Suboxone. 

What is Suboxone and How Does it Work? 

Since its FDA approval in 2002, Suboxone has become one of the most commonly used medication-assisted treatments for opioid addiction. Also known under the brand names Bunavail or Zubsolve, Suboxone contains two primary active substances: 

  • Buprenorphine is a long-acting opioid used to replace the shorter-acting, more addictive opioids that many drug users become addicted to (e.g., heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl or hydromorphone). When taken at the correct dosage, it blocks opiate receptors in the brain to provide relief from cravings and withdrawal symptoms without causing the person to feel high (euphoric) or sleepy.
  • Naloxone, also known under its brand name Narcan®, is a medication used to reverse opioid overdose. When combined with buprenorphine, however, it acts as an antagonist; it enhances the opioid-blocking properties of buprenorphine while discouraging misuse. Therefore, if a drug user were to crush and snort a tablet of Suboxone, the added naloxone will block opioids from the brain’s receptors and prevent any sort of high from occurring.
When combined with supervised medical care and therapeutic treatment, Suboxone is considered a highly effective treatment for opioid use disorder.

Suboxone Dosages

Suboxone is an oral medication that can be administered sublingually (placed under the tongue) or buccally (between your gums and cheek) as a single daily dissolvable dose. 

It’s offered in the following four dosages:

  • 12 mg buprenorphine with 3 mg naloxone
  • 8 mg buprenorphine with 2 mg naloxone
  • 4 mg buprenorphine with 1 mg naloxone
  • 2 mg buprenorphine with 0.5 mg naloxone

Most people use heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids multiple times a day, whereas a single daily dose of buprenorphine is long-lasting, limiting exposure to potentially lethal illicit opioids.

Common Side Effects of Suboxone

Suboxone treatment for opioid use disorder can include a number of side effects, the most severe of which are caused by Suboxone’s status as a partial opioid agonist (i.e. the presence of buprenorphine in the compound).

According to the drug manufacturer, common side effects of Suboxone can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Numb mouth
  • Constipation
  • Painful tongue
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Problems with concentration

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Treatment Plans

While treatment approaches vary depending on the addiction recovery center you or your loved one attends, there are typically four main steps in the Suboxone treatment process:

  • Step 1  → New patient intake
    This typically includes a medical and psychosocial evaluation, drug screen, and blood tests to ensure you’re a viable candidate for Suboxone
  • Step 2 → Induction
    This phase involves a transition from a user’s current opiate intake to Suboxone, with the aim of minimizing “cold turkey” withdrawal symptoms
  • Step 3 → Stabilization
    This phase begins after a person has discontinued or greatly reduced their drug use, no longer has cravings, and has few or no side effects. Suboxone is adjusted to the lowest dose to suppress withdrawal symptoms to allow for eventual tapering off and discontinuation of treatment
  • Step 4 → Long-term maintenance
    If you or a loved one suffers from a severe opioid addiction, then ongoing, medically supervised treatment of Suboxone and therapeutic support may be required. Consult with a medical professional for more details.

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the Take-Away

The opioid epidemic has been raging a deadly war in the United States for over two decades.  In the late 90s, Big Pharma readily reassured doctors that their patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers, so they started doling out prescriptions at greater rates than ever before. Unsurprisingly, this led to widespread misuse …