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Suboxone Explained: Risks, Benefits and Effectiveness

Suboxone is a drug approved by the FDA in 2003 to treat strong opiate addictions, like heroin. With proper use, Suboxone can lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and kick start your road to recovery. Its popularity stems from its effectiveness. This drug consists of two main components: buprenorphine and naloxone. They both work in different manners to treat opioid addiction.

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A Look at Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. It helps relieve withdrawal symptoms by binding to the receptors in the brain. This type of drug falls under the benzodiazepine class. It has a similar role to methadone with only one key difference. Buprenorphine has a plateau limit. Once a certain dose is reached, the effects of buprenorphine plateaus off. This is known as the “ceiling effect” and the main reason why buprenorphine is not addictive.

A Look at Naloxone

The other drug found in Suboxone is naloxone. This is an opioid antagonist, which acts as an antidote to opioids. It prevents them from having an effect on the body. Naloxone can be purchased separately from pharmacies. It is the antidote to opioids, and can reverse any effects that opioids have on the body. This medication prevents overdoses if it is administered at the right time and in the right way. Naloxone can be purchased as an injection or as a nasal spray when used to reverse the effects of opioids.

Risks Involved with Using Suboxone

Although effective in treating opioid addictions, there are some risks involved. Before adding Suboxone to your treatment plan, weigh the benefits against the risks. Suboxone can cause a person to stop breathing. This is especially prevalent if users take larger doses than prescribed. Other common side effects of Suboxone use include:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Lightheadedness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Stomach pains
  • Vomiting

Speak with a doctor if the symptoms above get more intense or if they persist. The doctor may want to alter your dosage or try another type of medication. To prevent serious side effects from emerging, keep a doctor up to date with your progress and condition. Minor side effects can easily become serious ones.

Serious Side Effects of Suboxone

Some side effects are less common, but are much more serious. You must speak with a doctor immediately if you experience the following:

  • Abdominal pains, especially in the upper right of the stomach
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Difficulties swallowing
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rashes or hives and itching
  • Slowed breathing
  • Unusual and significant bleeding and bruising
  • Upset stomach
  • Yellowing of the eyes or the skin

These side effects need to be addressed immediately. If you are experiencing these side effects, Suboxone may not be the right medication for you. In these situations, your doctors may want to explore other options that are available.

Interactions with Other Drugs

When taking Suboxone, it is vital that you avoid taking any other drugs. You should even stay away from supplements. Tell your doctor about any other medications you might be taking. This will determine whether there may be any unwanted cross-reactions. Suboxone will often interact with other drugs, like:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Antifungals like fluconazole
  • Birth control pills
  • Carbamazepine
  • Cimetidine
  • Clarithromycin
  • Cyclosporine
  • Danazol
  • Erythromycin
  • Fluoxetine, like Prozac
  • HIV drugs
  • Iron supplements
  • Medications for anxiety or seizures
  • Medications that lower cholesterol
  • Niacin
  • Phenobarbital
  • Rifampin
  • Verapamil
  • Troglitazone
  • Zafirlukas

If you are taking any of these drugs with Suboxone, your risks will increase. Combinations of some of these drugs with Suboxone may even be deadly.

Suboxone Overdose

Although unusual, it’s possible to overdose on Suboxone. If you take a higher dose than prescribed by the doctors, you might overdose. Common symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Increased irritability
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Sleepiness and extreme fatigue
  • Stomach pain

If you suspect that you or someone you know is overdosing, seek medical help immediately. Go to an emergency room or contact the poison control center. Surprisingly, the buprenorphine in Suboxone can be toxic to kids. In fact, buprenorphine exposure among kids makes up for a lot of the calls that are made to poison centers.

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Benefits of Suboxone

The primary benefit of Suboxone lies in the fact that it contains buprenorphine rather than methadone. As mentioned before, buprenorphine has a ceiling effect. Once the dosage reaches a certain amount, its effect will hit a plateau. This means that it is almost impossible to overdose on Suboxone. It’s also equally difficult to get addicted. It’s easy to wean off of Suboxone when the time comes. It doesn’t take long for patients to taper off of the drug and go on their merry way. In comparison to buprenorphine, drugs like methadone don’t have a ceiling. This means that a higher dosage will result in a larger high. Due to this reason, drugs like methadone are easy to abuse. They also have a high addictive potential. Patients who are treating a heroin addiction can end up addicted to methadone. Those who are taking Suboxone will never have to worry about this happening. The naloxone inside Suboxone also offers beneficial properties. With the naloxone, it’s much easier to get over opioid cravings, which can be hard to tolerate. The presence of naloxone also helps prevent a secondary addiction to Suboxone. In short, the biggest advantage that Suboxone can offer is its low abuse potential. It is not an addictive drug, and it’s difficult to develop tolerance or dependence. The amount needed for each patient to reach the plateau will differ. The range can be quite huge. Most patients will reach a plateau at doses above 2mg, but below 16mg.

Tapering Off the Drug Is Fairly Easy

Another benefit of Suboxone is that it is a fairly easy drug to taper off of. Avoiding withdrawal symptoms can be a piece of cake. You can either cut the strips into smaller pieces or take a lower dosage of the pill. Most doctors will recommend doing a slow taper of 1mg to 2mg every 2 weeks. It can take several weeks or months to finally taper off of the drug.

Suboxone Withdrawal Symptoms

If you taper too fast from Suboxone, you may experience some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Stomach cramps

If you experience any of the above withdrawal symptoms, you are doing tapering off the drug too quickly. You need to take a step back, and go at it much more slowly. If done right, it’s easy to taper off of Suboxone. Most patients won’t experience any withdrawal symptoms at all.

A Quick Look at How Long Suboxone Stays in Your Body

Suboxone has a rather long half-life. It takes the body quite some time to clear it completely from its system. This is mainly because Suboxone contains buprenorphine. The half-life of buprenorphine is about 37 hours. This means that it can take as long as 8 days for the body to completely metabolize Suboxone. Suboxone abuse is easy to detect as a result. You can detect the drug in your urine 40 minutes after using it. The urinalysis will also remain positive for quite some time. In long-term, heavy users, it may take up to 2 weeks for the urinalysis to show negative results. It’s also easy to detect Suboxone in the hair. A hair drug test can determine whether Suboxone was used for up to 1 to 3 months. With that said, most people rely on the urine test instead of the hair drug test. This is because a urinalysis can offer instant results, and is often much cheaper.

The Effectiveness of Suboxone

Suboxone does its job. However, it’s not nearly as effective as some other drugs on the market. For example, studies have found that methadone is much more effective. A successful recovery treatment program is one that can keep patients in the program. After all, addiction recovery takes time. Methadone is found to be much more effective in this regard. It has a retention rate of approximately 70% to 80%. On the other hand, the first year retention rate for Suboxone falls anywhere from 56.9% to 90%. The numbers still vary, as the effectiveness of the treatment relies on other factors as well.

Cost Difference between Methadone and Suboxone

While both medications can be effective, there are also other factors to consider. Many doctors often prescribe methadone instead of Suboxone due to the lower cost of methadone. In most states, methadone tends to be quite a bit cheaper than Suboxone. In fact, it should only cost patients an average of $91 per week to get the methadone tablets they need. On the other hand, the average monthly cost for Suboxone falls between $430 to $640. This means that the weekly cost of Suboxone is on average $16 to $69 more expensive than methadone. Methadone also tends to be easier to get for some reason. More pharmacies offer methadone than Suboxone. There are many other drugs that have started to appear on the market recently. Vivitrol is one of them. This drug is believed to be just as effective as Suboxone. It’s an option worthy of looking into. However, it’s important to note that Vivitrol is a bit more expensive than Suboxone. If you would like to try Suboxone in your treatment, we can see whether your insurance provider covers the cost of the pills. Verify your insurance with us, and we can figure out what your policy is like.

Suboxone Strips vs. Pills

Suboxone comes in various forms. It can be taken as a pill or it can be ingested in the form of a strip. The strips are fairly new inventions. They first emerged on the market in 2011. While both pills and strips are equally effective and contain the same type of ingredients, the strips may take less time to work. This is because they dissolve much faster into your system. Patients have also reacted in different ways to the various Suboxone forms. Some patients claim that the pills are much more effective, as they come with fewer side effects.

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Break Free from an Opioid Addiction

Opioid addictions are notoriously difficult to break free from. Those who get addicted often struggle with their addictions for years to come. This is especially true since it is difficult to taper off of opioids. Medications, like Suboxone and methadone, have made it easier to treat opioid addictions. These drugs work together to curb cravings and to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. They are quite effective. The best part is that they are much less addictive, and there’s less of a potential for abuse. If you are dealing with an opioid addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our counsellors can give you more information about the pros and cons of Suboxone. They can also explore other medications and treatment plans with you. We’ll work with you to create a feasible and sustainable addiction treatment plan that works for you. At the moment, Suboxone is one of the best opioid addiction treatments available. As long as you take the right dosage, you should be able to free yourself from your opioid addiction fairly quickly.