A single, effective dose of buprenorphine, as found in Suboxone, can last between 24-60 hours, with an average of around three days. Most doctors and addiction specialists direct patients to take the drug once daily. A person’s individual factors, such as weight and metabolism, can prolong or shorten the action of Suboxone.
Suboxone includes buprenorphine and naloxone, which are both opioid drugs. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it attaches to receptors in the brain that opioids do, only it does not activate them to the full extent of say, heroin. Naloxone is a full agonist and is included as an abuse-deterrent measure because it works by actively reversing the effects of other opioids.
Treatment for opioid addiction often includes the use of medications like Suboxone, as it can reduce symptoms of withdrawal and promote abstinence from opioid use. While Suboxone mimics some opioid-like effects, it simultaneously diminishes the brain’s need for a true opioid drug.
About Opioid Abuse and Addiction
Opiates and opioids are medications intended to block pain signals sent to the brain. These drugs include codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, and many other similar substances. While these medications are frequently prescribed for pain, they are sometimes used illicitly as a product of drug diversion. Other opioids that are commonly found in illegal forms are heroin, fentanyl, and U-47700.
In addition to pain relief, opioids can induce drowsiness, impair thinking, and depress the central nervous system (CNS), lowering heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Due to their effect on regions of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, they also can produce feelings of euphoria. This effect can encourage people to repeatedly abuse the drugs or use them in ways not prescribed.
Some people will develop dependence or addiction to opioid drugs. Dependent occurs when the body adapts to a drug’s presence and then begins to require it in order to function normally. This condition results in highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when the person quits using or dramatically cuts back on use.
Addiction may include physical dependence and also tolerance. Tolerance builds because our brains have a propensity to reduce the effects of certain substances through repeated use. Addiction is also hallmarked by compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite the incurrence of adverse consequences.
Abuse of opioids can have detrimental effects on brain structure and function. It can lead to respiratory arrest and cerebral hypoxia, or an inadequate amount of oxygen reaching the brain that may result in brain damage, coma, or death.
As noted, because opiate use can lead to dependence, when the amount of the drug in the body diminishes, symptoms of withdrawal will start to manifest. The amount of time needed for a person to develop a dependence varies between individuals. When discontinuing or reducing the use of opioids, the body requires time to recover and revert to a state in which it is no longer reliant on the drug’s presence. Because opioid withdrawal tends to be very uncomfortable, medical detox may be vital for many people to prevent relapse.
The following are common withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid dependence:
- Anxiety and agitation
- Muscle aches and pains
- Abdominal cramps
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
Although the symptoms of withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant, they are not usually life-threatening. The symptoms will eventually decrease as the body reacclimates and returns to normal functioning without the addictive substance.
How Suboxone Works
As previously noted, Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone helps to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings by inducing a manageable amount of opioid effects in the brain. Although buprenorphine can cause effects such as mild euphoria, the effects are much more limited than those related to full opioid agonists, such as heroin. Buprenorphine has a high affinity for opioid receptors, and, once attached, it prevents other opioids from latching on.
Suboxone treatment generally occurs in three phases: induction, stabilization, and maintenance.
The induction phase starts between 12-24 hours after a person has used their last dose of an opioid. Treatment should begin during this early stage of withdrawal—if it is started during later stages, this can result in a worsening of symptoms.
The stabilization phase starts when the person is experiencing few symptoms or cravings. During this phase, the frequency of use and the dosage of Suboxone use will be adjusted (probably lowered) to meet the person’s individual needs.
The maintenance phase consists of a steady dose of Suboxone over time, eventually tapering off to a very low dose until it is no longer required.
Common side effects of Suboxone may include the following:
- Stomach pain and vomiting
- Sleep disturbances
- Blurred vision
More severe side effects may occur, including difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the face or extremities, or profound tiredness. If you experience any of these side effects, contact a doctor or addiction specialist right away.
Effectiveness of Suboxone
Buprenorphine, one of the main ingredients in Suboxone, was approved for medical use in 2002 by the Food and Drug Administration. The medication is different than methadone in that it can be prescribed in a doctor’s office, while methadone is only available through specially licensed facilities. For this reason, a greater number of people can receive medication-assisted treatment to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Of note, despite Suboxone’s increased safety and reduced potential for abuse, methadone is still often used for the treatment of particularly severe opioid addictions. A 2004 study by the Taylor and Francis Group found that Suboxone could be administered safely and in unsupervised settings, was well-tolerated by most patients, and was effective at promoting abstinence from opioids. The administration of Suboxone in non-inpatient treatment settings makes this medication highly beneficial because it is one of the few addiction treatment remedies that can be self-administered without much concern.
According to the Journal of Addiction Medicine, in a study that evaluated the effectiveness of Suboxone, compliance with treatment was outstanding. An overwhelming majority of study participants were successful in abstaining from opioid use during treatment. No safety issues or abuse of Suboxone was identified during the course of the study. A variety of benefits over other similar medications have been reported, which has made Suboxone an increasingly attractive choice for treatment centers and healthcare providers. In fact, its use has steadily increased since it was first introduced.
While Suboxone may be more easily obtained and administered than methadone, it is still highly regulated and somewhat challenging to acquire. Because Suboxone mimics some of the effects of opiate drugs, the medication is sometimes sold illicitly as a product of drug diversion. Concerns such as this have led to strict regulations for the attainment and use of the medication.
Getting Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Harmony Recovery Center offers medication-assisted therapy for opioid addiction in the form of Suboxone and naltrexone. Suboxone can begin to be administered in our outpatient detox program and throughout the treatment process, which can include partial-hospitalization and outpatient treatment programs.
If you are suffering from an addiction to opioids, other drugs, or alcohol, call us today! We are ready to help you reclaim your life so you can experience the long-lasting health and well-being you deserve!