Does Suboxone Work for Opiate Addiction Treatment?

Most addicts cannot stop using drugs on their own. They need help and support to change the way they think, their behaviors, and treatment for underlying issues – psychological and psychiatric. Opiate addicts who attempt to stop using cold turkey, which is not widely recommended, have an extremely low success rate. Opiate users who are able to quit cold turkey and stay clean for a period of time, often relapse during early recovery, and many of them end up overdosing. That is why is it often recommended that medication-assisted treatments be used in treating opioid addiction.

There are several options for medication that is used during detox and drug rehabilitation that ease the effects of withdrawal, reduce cravings, and help prevent relapse. One such drug is Suboxone. It helps addicts detox more comfortably and blocks the negative effects of opiates. Suboxone began being used as a treatment for opioid addictions in 2002 and has proven to be successful. Up to 60% of addicts who used medication-assisted treatment with Suboxone remained clean after a year.

Suboxone treatment has to be closely supervised by doctors, so it is typically done while addicts are in residential drug treatment. As with other types of medication that are used for opioid addiction, there is a risk of Suboxone becoming habit forming. Thus, there is a potential for abuse and overdose.

What Is Suboxone and How Does It Work?

Suboxone is the brand name for a prescription drug that is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a member of the class of drugs called opioid partial agonists, which relieve symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Naloxone belongs to the class of drugs called opioid antagonists, which help reverse the effects of opioid drugs. Buprenorphine is the primary drug in Suboxone, but when combined with naloxone, it is helpful in treating opioid addiction to drugs like Vicodin, heroin, OxyContin, and hydrocodone.

Problems with Suboxone Treatment

In 2002, when Suboxone was first released as a treatment for heroin addiction, it was touted as a far better option than methadone. But it has had its fair share of criticism during the last fifteen years. One of the biggest is that it is overprescribed and misused. While it is known to have success in treating opioid addiction, there have been well over 3 million Americans with opiate addictions who have been treated using Suboxone, and it comes with a high risk of abuse.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in 2010 just over half of the more than 30,000 buprenorphine-related hospitalizations were for misuse, abuse, or overdose. The number of deaths due to overdose is unreported, as medical examiners do not routinely test for the drug.

Another issue with Suboxone is its illicit use. Many Suboxone users who cannot deal with the discomfort of withdrawal (even with the relief that Suboxone provides), return to using opiates. They can then sell or trade their Suboxone on the streets in order to obtain heroin or other opioid drugs. It’s estimated that about half of the Suboxone prescribed legitimately is being sold or used illicitly.

The potential for abuse and illicit use is not enough to stop using Suboxone for the treatment of opioid addiction; the benefits still outweigh the drawbacks. However, drug manufacturers and public safety officials agree that it calls for a balanced approach to the prescribing and use of the drug.

Possibly the biggest problem associated with the use of Suboxone treatment is the potential for it to cause its own addiction epidemic. Over time, patients who use Suboxone can develop a physical dependence to the drug and have withdrawal symptoms when stopping use. That, coupled with the illicit use, has the potential of creating another wave of addicts who cannot stop using a drug on their own.

Advantages of Suboxone for Opioid Addiction Treatment

Even with the risks associated with Suboxone use, there are some significant benefits to using the drug for opioid addiction. For many, the drug is a life-saving treatment than not only helps them avoid much of the intensely painful period of being “dope sick” (opioid withdrawal), but it helps them make the first tentative steps toward recovery and sobriety and reduces cravings.

Other advantages of Suboxone use include:

  • There is a certain amount of stigma that is associated with the use of methadone for opioid addiction treatment. There doesn’t seem to be the same amount associated with Suboxone use.
  • It is fairly easy to stabilize the needed dosage within just a day or two.
  • It has a favorable safety profile compared to other medication-assisted treatments.
  • It may be easier for patients taking Suboxone to discontinue its use than those who are trying to come off of methadone.
  • It is long lasting, so it may not require daily dosing.
  • It has fewer side-effects than methadone.

Disadvantages of Suboxone for Opioid Addiction Treatment

In addition to the risk of addiction, illicit use, and being overprescribed, there are some disadvantages to choosing Suboxone for opioid addiction treatment.

Disadvantages of Suboxone use include:

  • Although the side-effects of Suboxone are typically not as adverse as those of methadone, they can still be cause for concern. They include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, fever or chills, sweating, lower back or side pain, and drug withdrawal syndrome.
  • It may not be able to satisfy cravings or inhibit withdrawal symptoms in those who have developed a high tolerance.
  • Dose adjustments may be difficult.
  • It often causes a precipitated withdrawal in patients.

Another problem with buprenorphine is that it can trap addicts in a cycle of relapse. They use Suboxone to manage their withdrawal but end up returning to their drug of choice to achieve a stronger high. At Rally Point in West Palm Beach, we can give you the proper tools and coping skills to conquer your addiction, so you don’t end up trading it in for a new one or increasing your chances of relapse with another drug – even if it is on that is prescribed.

About The Author

Editorial Staff at

The editorial staff at Rally Point works tirelessly to provide the most accurate and non-biased educational content to give our audience the best chance at achieving long-term success in recovery. This is accomplished by only employing highly trained individuals in the alcohol and drug addiction treatment industry. With hundreds of years of combined experience, the editorial staff at Rally Point are trained, qualified and are experts in the field of drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

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