Suboxone has been called everything from a miracle medication to treat heroin and opioid addiction to a “blockbuster” medication that “has become both medication and dope: a treatment with considerable successes and also failures, as well as a street and prison drug bedeviling local authorities.” That New York Times article was written in 2013, but in 2018 Suboxone is still widely controversial. So, what is Suboxone, how does it work, and why is it so contentious?
Use of suboxone has sky-rocked in the past decade as the opioid epidemic has ripped through American families. It has been touted as a much safer treatment option than earlier opioid medications like methadone. According to its website, Suboxone is a sublingual film composed of buprenorphine and naloxone prescribed and used in the treatment of prescription and illegal opioids.
History of Suboxone
Suboxone has been approved by the FDA and many other countries to treat heroin and opioid addiction. The medication can only be prescribed by doctors who have federal authorization, though the authorization only requires eight hours of training. The active ingredient buprenorphine is, seen as a promising in treating opioid use disorder, and withdrawal. Suboxone entered the pharmaceutical market more than 15 years ago in an experiment to try to combat the onset of the opioid epidemic. It has been approved for Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), a form of addiction treatment that combines medication with behavioral therapies.
Back in the early 2000s, there were more than 2 million people addicted to some form of opioids who were in need of addiction treatment. However, less than 150,000 of those persons were able to get into an Opioid Treatment Program. According to a senior public health analyst with SAMHSA, “The thinking was we needed to develop an office-based model” of treatment as opposed to the intensive in-patient model. Patients on Suboxone rose from 100,000 in 2005 to more than 640,000 in 2009. Ever since Suboxone has become a lightning rod of controversy in the addiction treatment community as well as the recovery community.
What is Suboxone
The active ingredient in Suboxone is Buprenorphine. It is technically an opioid itself; however, it is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that its maximum effects on a user are far less than the effects of full-strength opioids such as heroin or methadone. Buprenorphine is useful in treating opioid and heroin withdrawal symptoms because it cannot create the same life-threatening overdose situations while easing withdrawals. Other possible benefits of opioid treatment using Suboxone at the proper dose levels include:
- Less euphoric feelings—A weaker high
- Less physical dependence –Less Addiction
- Relatively mild withdrawal profile (compared to methadone)
- Block the effects of other opioids like heroin and OxyContin
- Weaker Cravings
Dangers of Suboxone
Suboxone is not the miracle drug that its advocates would have you believe. While Buprenorphine is effective in preventing withdrawals from other opioids, patients can choose to stop taking the prescription to get high again. Many who were prescribed suboxone acknowledged using it as a crutch to still get high when they want without having to do deal with the withdrawal symptoms from using opioids.
While Suboxone sublingual strips are prescribed for about 55% of medically assisted opiate treatments, other Buprenorphine medications are available in pill form. People in treatment facilities have reported crushing up the pills and either snorting or injecting the medication in serious attempts to get high.
Suboxone treatment can also result in long-term dependence on the medication, with lengthy withdrawals at the end of a seemingly endless taper-down process. Dependence and illegal use of Suboxone can be fatal. Tennessee, in 2016, reported that 67 of its 1,600 overdose deaths involved Buprenorphine—the active ingredient in Suboxone.
These are the reasons why those receiving Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) at Boardwalk Recovery Center are encouraged to promptly transition to Sublocade shortly after admission. Sublocade is the injectable, extended release form of Suboxone (buprenorphine). Each injection lasts approximately 28 days. This is a critical time in treatment during which clients are connecting to their peers and the treatment team. Sublocade can dampen cravings to use opioids and withdrawal symptoms that may otherwise interfere with this process. MAT clients engage in Motivational Interviewing with their primary therapist while deciding if they want to get another injection when the time comes. Family therapy can also be used in gathering input about the next step.
Suboxone and Treatment
At Boardwalk Recovery, we are compassionate about the pain of opioid withdrawals. We also understand the health dangers of relapsing on drugs such as Fentanyl, OxyContin, heroin, and others. Our recovery and outpatient treatment options are designed to promote long-term abstinence and relapse prevention.
We employ only the most qualified doctors and medical staff to determine the psychological and medical needs of all those seeking our services. Whether you are looking for treatment of opioid addiction for yourself or a loved one, we can answer any concerns you have with regards to MAT, both its pros and cons.