Suboxone Drastically Reduces Illicit Use in Treating Opioid Addiction

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When it’s used in the right setting, it’s a miracle drug – when used properly in a detox setting – I can’t stress that enough.

~ Greg Hansen

10.1 million. That’s the estimated number of Americans aged 12 or older who misused opioids in 2019.

There were an estimated 75,673 opioid overdose deaths that occurred from April 2020 through April 2021.

What are we doing about these alarming statistics? The FDA has approved three drugs to treat opioid dependence. Buprenorphine – sold under the brand name Suboxone – is one of them.

Here’s how it works and what researchers have discovered.

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Suboxone 101

Suboxone is an opioid partial agonist. An agonist is a chemical that triggers a response in the body. This drug only partly activates rather than fully. So its effects are weaker than substances like heroin or morphine (which are full agonists).

The drug also has a ceiling effect. This means higher doses don’t increase its effects. And, it’s long-acting, so people don’t have to take it every day.

This makes Suboxone a go-to drug for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder.

This medication can:

  • Diminish the effects of physical dependency on opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings
  • Increase safety (reduce the chances of overdose)
  • Lower the potential for drug abuse

Ultimately, this can help people withdraw from opioids like heroin and reduce people’s use.

If it is taken as prescribed, buprenorphine is reported to be safe and effective.

How long someone takes buprenorphine varies with each case. Treatment can range from short-term to indefinite.

MAT 101

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that 1.27 million Americans are now receiving medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD). This combines medication like buprenorphine with counseling and behavioral therapies. This creates a comprehensive treatment plan that treats the whole person.


Maintenance medication is helping me live a productive life today.

~ Wendy Greer

Research has shown that this combination can successfully treat opioid use disorders and help sustain recovery.

SAMSHA states the ultimate goal of MAT is “full recovery, including the ability to live a self-directed life.”

Does It Work?

Researchers recently dug into results from drug tests to find out.

Brendan Saloner, PhD, is an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Together with researchers from Millennium Health, he published their findings in JAMA Network Open.

These investigators analyzed 150,000 urine drug test results for OUD patients. The patients were prescribed Suboxone between 2013 and 2019. Researchers wanted to find out if the presence of Suboxone made it less likely for a person to misuse opioids.

Of their 150,000 results, 85.49 percent were positive for buprenorphine. Just under half (47.58 percent) were positive for at least one non-prescribed substance.

They discovered that patients who tested negative for prescribed buprenorphine “were significantly more likely” to test positive for other substances, compared to those who tested positive for buprenorphine.

Specifically, they found:

  • Those who tested negative for buprenorphine were 10 times more likely to test positive for heroin.
  • Those who tested negative for buprenorphine were seven times more likely to test positive for fentanyl.

In other words, the results indicate that if the patients stuck with their treatment, they were less likely to abuse other drugs. And, that if they stopped taking their medication, they were much more likely to turn to other drugs.

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More Good News for Suboxone

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Other research supports the theory that Suboxone can be an effective treatment for addiction. One meta-analysis of buprenorphine use found that doses of this medication improved retention in treatment and that high doses reduced opioid use.

And through other research, MAT has been shown to:

  • Increase treatment retention
  • Increase patients’ ability to remain employed
  • Decrease illicit opioid use and other criminal activity among those with SUDs
  • Improve patient survival

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the Take-Away

10.1 million. That’s the estimated number of Americans aged 12 or older who misused opioids in 2019. There were an estimated 75,673 opioid overdose deaths that occurred from April 2020 through April 2021. What are we doing about these alarming statistics? The FDA has approved three drugs to treat opioid dependence. Buprenorphine – sold under …