Suboxone for Opioid Addiction

Suboxone is the brand name for a medication that is a combination of two drugs: buprenorphine (Subutex) and naloxone (Narcan).  Suboxone can reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms in those with opioid addiction, as explained below.

Suboxone for Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction

Opioids are drugs commonly used for moderate or severe pain.  In addition to reducing pain, these drugs produce feelings of happiness and relaxation. Sometimes people using these drugs develop opioid addiction (opioid use disorder).  This can occur as a result of abusing illicit opioids, like heroin.  But it can also occur as a result of misusing prescribed opioids (e.g., codeine, morphine), such as when these drugs are taken for much longer than recommended or used for getting high.

When a person addicted to opioids stops taking these drugs, he or she often experiences very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, like intense anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, cramps, and diarrhea. Aside from withdrawal, opioid use disorder is also characterized by tolerance (requiring more of the drug to achieve the same high) and a number of drug-related behaviors (e.g., craving for opioids, drug-seeking behaviors). Opioid addiction can be life-threatening.  In 2013, over 50,000 deaths in the US were linked to opioid use disorders. Suboxone was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2002 and is considered a first-line treatment for opioid addiction.

Suboxone: buprenorphine and naloxone

Three types of medications are used for the treatment of opioid addiction: Full opioid agonists, partial agonists, and antagonists. Full opioid agonists, like methadone, are drugs with actions quite similar to opioids of abuse (e.g., heroin). Therefore, full opioid agonists have considerable abuse liability. Partial agonists, like buprenorphine, produce only a partial response. This means buprenorphine still activates the opioid receptors, but it does not produce the same high that an opioid of abuse or methadone does. Last, antagonists, like the drug naloxone, block or reverse the effects of opioids. That is why naloxone can be used to reverse the dangerous effects of an opioid overdose. Suboxone, an effective medication for the treatment of opioid addiction, is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.

Is Suboxone the Right Medication for You?

If you are struggling with opioid addiction, you might want to ask your doctor about Suboxone.  This medication can significantly reduce your cravings and withdrawal symptoms, enabling you to break the cycle of addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, you might be the right candidate for Suboxone treatment if:

• You have no contraindications (e.g., hypersensitivity to buprenorphine or naloxone).
• Will do your best to comply with the treatment.
• Understand the benefits and the risks of taking Suboxone.
• Will follow safety precautions (e.g., not mixing Suboxone with illegal drugs, benzodiazepines, or alcohol).
• Have reviewed the other treatment options available before agreeing to the Suboxone treatment.

Suboxone has a number of advantages compared to other medications for opioid addiction, such as methadone. Suboxone has a low overdose risk, not to mention a low abuse potential.  Despite these benefits, this medication has some potential side effects and risks. These include dizziness, pain (e.g., headache, back pain), mouth numbness, sweating, nausea, sleep difficulties, and constipation. Before taking this medication, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people with certain medical conditions (e.g., severe respiratory problems, head injury, liver disease) need to discuss the potential risks of taking this drug with their health providers.  Therefore, it is important to discuss both its benefits and risks with your health provider.  The goal is to make sure Suboxone is a safe and effective treatment for your condition, given your medical history.


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