What Is Suboxone?

June 26, 2024

Discover what is Suboxone, its uses, benefits, and how it compares to alternatives in our comprehensive guide.

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Understanding Suboxone

In this section, we will focus on the fundamental aspects of Suboxone, explaining what it is and how it works. This information is essential to understand the subsequent sections of the article.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a buprenorphine-based drug that is used to treat individuals recovering from opiate or opioid abuse. It consists of a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine helps reduce withdrawal symptoms, and naloxone can reverse the effects of opioid use and overdose.

While Suboxone itself has a low risk of addiction and dependency, it has become a drug of abuse in some cases. Some individuals have reported getting high from Suboxone use, leading to struggles with managing its intake. Misuse of Suboxone can lead to physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms, including withdrawal symptoms, cravings, flu-like symptoms, muscle pain, and behavioral symptoms like visiting multiple doctors and obtaining multiple prescriptions.

Mechanism of Action

The primary active ingredient in Suboxone, buprenorphine, acts as an opiate partial agonist. This means it helps stop withdrawal symptoms from emerging in individuals recovering from heroin or prescription opioid abuse. This component has a low risk of abuse due to a "ceiling effect," where the effects level off after a certain amount is taken.

The other component, naloxone, works to counteract the effects of opioids in the body. It specifically helps maintain normal breathing and reduces the likelihood of misuse. The presence of naloxone in Suboxone decreases the chances of abuse and overdose.

Understanding the mechanism of action of Suboxone is crucial for healthcare providers and patients alike. It helps professionals prescribe the right dosage and provide appropriate guidance, while it helps patients understand how the treatment will aid their recovery and what they can expect during the process.

Side Effects and Risks

While Suboxone can be an effective medication for treating opioid dependency, it's crucial to be aware of its potential side effects and risks. These include respiratory depression and the potential for addiction.

Respiratory Depression

Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist, meaning it can lead to respiratory depression, a condition characterized by slow and ineffective breathing. This side effect occurs in 1-10 percent of patients [2].

Respiratory depression can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. If users experience difficulty breathing, they should seek medical help immediately. It's essential to note that misuse or overdose of Suboxone can increase the chances of severe respiratory depression, emphasizing the importance of taking the medication as directed by a healthcare professional.

Other common side effects of Suboxone include headache, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. These effects should be monitored as they can potentially lead to opioid relapse.

Potential for Addiction

While Suboxone is generally considered to have a low risk of addiction, some users may become attached to the relaxation it provides, potentially leading to addiction and drug relapse [2].

Reports indicate that Suboxone has become a drug of abuse, with some individuals misusing it to experience a high. This misuse can lead to addiction and difficulties in managing its intake [1].

Suboxone abuse can lead to various physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. Physical symptoms may include withdrawal symptoms, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, and muscle pain. Psychological symptoms can manifest as euphoria, talkativeness, and body warmth. Behavioral symptoms might include doctor shopping, visiting multiple doctors, and obtaining multiple prescriptions.

In conclusion, while Suboxone can be a useful tool in the management of opioid dependency, it's vital for users to be aware of its potential side effects and the risk of addiction. It should always be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional, and any side effects should be reported promptly.

Comparison with Methadone

When discussing opioid dependency treatment options, one cannot overlook the comparison between Suboxone and Methadone. These two medications, while similar in purpose, have distinct differences in their treatment protocols, benefits, and drawbacks.

Differences in Treatment

Methadone, like Suboxone, is used as part of medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependency. It is a full opioid agonist, meaning it produces stronger opioid effects and has a higher potential for abuse compared to Suboxone, which is a partial opioid agonist.

Both Methadone and Suboxone work by blocking the effect of other opioids by filling the opioid receptors in the brain, assisting in the treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, the administration of these two medications differs significantly.

Methadone treatment typically requires daily visits to a specialized clinic, while Suboxone treatment can be prescribed and administered by a doctor in an office setting. This allows for more flexibility and convenience for patients, which can be a crucial factor in maintaining adherence to treatment.

Additionally, buprenorphine, the primary ingredient in Suboxone, can be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000), significantly increasing treatment accessibility. This is the first medication for opioid dependency that does not require highly structured clinic-based treatment, thus offering greater convenience for patients.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Both Methadone and Suboxone have their respective benefits and drawbacks.

Methadone, being a full opioid agonist, has a greater potential for abuse, making it a riskier option for some individuals. However, for those with severe opioid dependency, its stronger opioid effects can be beneficial in managing withdrawal symptoms.

On the other hand, Suboxone, as a partial opioid agonist, produces milder opioid effects and has a lesser potential for abuse. Its ability to be prescribed and administered in a standard office setting provides more convenience and flexibility for patients, which can be a significant advantage for those juggling work, school, or other commitments.

However, despite these benefits, Suboxone may not be as effective at managing severe withdrawal symptoms as Methadone. Therefore, the choice between these two treatment options should be made in consultation with a medical professional, taking into account the individual's specific circumstances, needs, and preferences.

Dosage and Administration

Understanding the proper dosage and administration of Suboxone is crucial for its efficacy and safety. The dosage of Suboxone may vary based on the patient's individual needs and response to treatment.

Induction Dosage

The induction phase of Suboxone treatment involves starting with an initial dose of Suboxone sublingual film. This dose is usually 2 mg/0.5 mg or 4 mg/1 mg buprenorphine/naloxone. On the first day, the dose may be titrated upwards in 2 or 4 mg increments to 8 mg/2 mg buprenorphine/naloxone. On the second day, a single daily dose of up to 16 mg/4 mg is recommended [4].

Before beginning buprenorphine treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), a patient must abstain from using opioids for at least 12 to 24 hours and be in the early stages of opioid withdrawal. Adjustments to the dose may be needed once the patient is stabilized. (SAMHSA)

Maintenance Dosage

Once the patient is stabilized, the maintenance phase begins. The dosage of Suboxone sublingual film for maintenance generally ranges from 4 mg/1 mg to 24 mg/6 mg buprenorphine/naloxone per day. The recommended target dosage is 16 mg/4 mg as a single daily dose. Dosages higher than 24 mg/6 mg daily have not shown a clinical advantage.

Buprenorphine can be prescribed to pregnant and breastfeeding women with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). It is considered a treatment of choice for OUD in pregnant and breastfeeding women. (SAMHSA)

Suboxone sublingual film must be administered whole and should not be cut, chewed, or swallowed. It can be taken sublingually by placing under the tongue or buccally by placing it on the inside of the cheek until dissolved.

Phase Initial Dosage Adjustment Maximum Dosage
Induction 2 mg/0.5 mg or 4 mg/1 mg Upwards in 2 or 4 mg increments 16 mg/4 mg on Day 2
Maintenance 4 mg/1 mg Based on patient response 24 mg/6 mg

Adhering to these dosage guidelines can help ensure the safe and effective use of Suboxone in the management of opioid use disorder. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized medical advice.

Special Considerations

While Suboxone can be an effective treatment option for those battling opioid addiction, it's important to note that there are certain scenarios where its use could require special consideration. These include in cases of hepatic impairment and during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Hepatic Impairment

Suboxone's use in patients with hepatic impairment, particularly severe hepatic impairment, may necessitate extra caution. This subset of patients may have reduced clearance of naloxone when compared to buprenorphine, leading to potential complications. As a result, the use of Suboxone is generally avoided in cases of severe hepatic impairment, and may not be suitable for those with moderate hepatic impairment [4].

Use in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

The use of buprenorphine, a component of Suboxone, in pregnant and breastfeeding women with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is another area of special consideration. According to SAMHSA, buprenorphine can be prescribed to pregnant and breastfeeding women with OUD. It is considered a treatment of choice for OUD in these populations.

When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine is both safe and effective, offering a significant advancement in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). However, it should be noted that the use of buprenorphine during pregnancy or breastfeeding should be part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and other services.

In conclusion, while Suboxone can be a powerful tool in the treatment of OUD, its use in certain populations requires special consideration. Always consult with a healthcare provider to ensure the safe and effective use of Suboxone.

Suboxone vs. Buprenorphine

As we delve deeper into the world of opioid dependency treatments, a common question that arises is 'what is Suboxone?' and how does it compare to Buprenorphine. Both are utilized in the treatment of opioid addiction, but their properties, uses, and effects are distinct.


Suboxone contains Buprenorphine, the active ingredient, which is a partial agonist at the mu opioid receptor and an antagonist at the kappa receptor. It has high affinity and low intrinsic activity at the mu receptor, leading to several desirable pharmacological properties like lower abuse potential, less withdrawal discomfort, a ceiling effect at higher doses, and greater safety in overdose compared to full opioid agonists.

Buprenorphine is 20-50 times more potent than morphine at analgesic doses. However, due to its low intrinsic activity at the mu receptor, it exhibits a ceiling effect where the agonist effects plateau at higher doses. This characteristic makes an overdose of buprenorphine less likely to cause fatal respiratory depression compared to an overdose of a full mu opioid agonist [3].

Basically, Buprenorphine is the primary element that gives Suboxone its effectiveness in treating opioid addiction.

Effectiveness and Safety

Buprenorphine, as a partial opioid agonist, falls between full opioid agonists (e.g., methadone) and opioid antagonists (e.g., naltrexone) in the pharmacotherapy of opioid addiction. It provides a reinforcing subjective effect described as "feeling normal" for individuals with opioid addiction.

Unlike methadone, Buprenorphine can be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000), significantly increasing treatment accessibility. It is the first medication for opioid dependency that does not require highly structured clinic-based treatment, thus offering greater convenience for patients [3].

It's worth noting that Buprenorphine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat acute and chronic pain and opioid dependence.

In conclusion, while Suboxone and Buprenorphine are used interchangeably in casual conversation, it's essential to understand their differences. Buprenorphine is a component of Suboxone and plays a pivotal role in its effectiveness against opioid addiction. Both have been proven safe and effective in the treatment of opioid dependence, but as with any medication, they should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.


[1]: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/suboxone/addictive

[2]: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/suboxone/side-effects

[3]: https://psychiatry.uams.edu/clinical-care/outpatient-care/cast/buprenorphine/

[4]: https://www.drugs.com/dosage/suboxone.html

[5]: https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459126/

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