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What is Suboxone®?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Suboxone® is the brand name of a medication that contains two different drugs: naloxone and buprenorphine. This medicine is most often used to address symptoms of withdrawal from opioids, and is touted as particularly helpful because it can be used in either drug treatment centers or prescribed by general physicians to help people recover from opioid abuse at home. The drug is usually prescribed in three phases that first targets withdrawal symptoms, then as a maintenance dose to help avoid further opioid use, and finally taper doses so the medication can be discontinued.

One of the ironies of Suboxone® is that one of its chief components is an opioid, buprenorphine. This opioid has a tendency to suppress withdrawal symptoms from other opioids like morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, or sometimes even heroin. It is less likely to produce a high, though it can still cause sleepiness and be lethal in overdoses. People undergoing therapy to end opioid addiction will require tapering of this medication in order to completely end drug addiction because the drug also causes dependence. Using buprenorphine to treat an addiction to opioids is similar to using methadone to end heroin addiction.

The addition of naloxone makes Suboxone® even more effective as a treatment for opioid addiction. Some people who are addicted to opioids crush and inject or snort them for a stronger high. Buprenorphine and naloxone is taken under the tongue, but if crushed and injected, it does not make people feel more significantly drugged.

In contrast, naloxone blocks part of the high and if it is directly introduced into the bloodstream, via needle, opioid withdrawal begins. There is no advantage for the person recovering from drug abuse to abuse the drug in this manner. It should be noted that people who use the medicine casually and aren’t already addicted to opioids may experience some high or sedation with initial use that would eventually dissipate over time.

Not everyone tolerates Suboxone® and people with conditions like mental illnesses, liver or kidney disease, breathing conditions that inhibit breathing, addiction to other substances like alcohol, or thyroid disorders might have trouble with this drug. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should probably not use this medicine. Patients should fully disclose all medical conditions to doctors so doctors can determine the appropriateness of treatment using this medicine.

There are also many medications that don’t combine well with this form of drug-tapering treatment. People who take any medicine causing drowsiness, like tranquilizers, psychiatric medications, or antihistamines may find this symptom increases dramatically. A list of other medicines exist that shouldn’t be mixed with Suboxone®, which means people should discuss with their doctors all medicines, herbs, or supplements they take.

All medications have side effects and the most common one with Suboxone® is constipation, which may be partially alleviated by drinking plenty of water and eating a high fiber diet. Serious side effects needing immediate medical attention include suppressed breathing, allergic reaction, and any signs of liver problems like yellowed skin (jaundice). Moreover, for Suboxone® to work effectively, people must take the drug exactly as prescribed and regularly meet with physicians to assess progress.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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