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Suboxone Abuse

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Suboxone is a mixture of naloxone and buprenorphine. It’s typically used in the management of opioid abuse and withdrawal. It can be given to people to facilitate detox, withdrawal and the early stages of opioid abuse recovery, as well as be used in the longer-term–as a maintenance medication to reduce the risk of relapse with more dangerous substances.

drugabuse_shutterstock-337755239-box-of-suboxone-on-table-openBuprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. Its moderate activity at the brain’s opioid receptors can help to reduce the effects of withdrawing from an opioid such heroin. As an opioid receptor antagonist, naloxone counteracts opioid overdose but also serves to prevent more potent opioids from fully delivering their euphoric effects. Suboxone is available in tablet form, as well as a sublingual film that dissolves upon insertion under the tongue.

Suboxone is a beneficial medication that aids in the treatment of opioid addiction. However, as an opioid drug, Suboxone abuse and addiction can occur. People may buy, sell, or trade their Suboxone, take Suboxone that is not prescribed to them, or take inappropriate doses of Suboxone.

Signs and Symptoms


Generally, signs of Suboxone abuse involve:

  • Random packages appearing at one’s home or work.
  • Running out of the medication before the intended prescription schedule.
  • Unusual behavior.
  • Strained relationships with loved ones.

The above may be indicators of addiction–the continued use of a substance regardless of the negatives that stem from it. Using Suboxone in ways other than described is dangerous and illegal.

Though Suboxone is designed to end the abuse of opioids, continued use of Suboxone can lead to dependence, which is the state of needing the drug to function and feel normally.

Effects of Suboxone Abuse

The desired effects of Suboxone use include:

  • Feelings of euphoria.
  • Feelings of calm and well-being.
  • Reduced sensations of physical pain.
  • Reduced cravings for other opiates.

Because of the last effect, people that are on heroin or painkiller medications may seek out Suboxone illicitly to manage the unwanted results that occur when an opiate is not available. However, if Suboxone is taken while an opioid drug is still in the system, it can precipitate opiate withdrawal symptoms.

The side effects of Suboxone depend on the dosage and whether the drug is used in combination with other substances. Side effects may include:

  • Nausea.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Attention problems.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Constipation.
  • Insomnia.
  • Hypotension (lowered blood pressure).
  • Sweating.
  • Dizziness and fainting.
  • Respiratory depression.

Additionally, first dissolving, and then injecting Suboxone can cause serious vascular inflammation and infections in addition to hastening several other severe effects of excessive opiate use.

Perhaps the most serious side effect of Suboxone and similar drugs is the potential for abuse and addiction, which can in time lead to severe health effects and overdose.

Suboxone Overdose

Suboxone contains buprenorphine, and it’s very hard to overdose on this particular drug; however it is possible. The risk of overdose is increased when it is combined with other drugs, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, to give a more intense high. This can cause extreme and widespread depression of a number of physiological processes–including slowed breathing and heart rate, coma and even death.

Seek immediate medical treatment if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Profound drowsiness.
  • Intermittent loss of consciousness.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Vision problems.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Sluggish reflexes.

Suboxone Abuse Treatment

woman-in-therapy-for-suboxone-abuseAs with any opioid, Suboxone abuse treatment follows a pattern dependent on the needs of the person in recovery. The first stage is detox, where you’ll be tapered off the drug until you are withdrawn from the substance altogether.

Once this stage is over, you’ll be given counseling and therapy, which will explore the reasons for your addiction. You’ll also be given psychological tools to combat the addiction, often in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy. This treatment can occur in a residential rehab or outpatient setting. Each setting has benefits based on the specific needs of the person in recovery.

Once outpatient treatment is established, many people will be referred to join peer support groups, such as a 12-step program, that will support you in your recovery. Active participation in a support group setting provides access to mentoring, fellowship, and shared experiences, and can be very helpful for people in various stages of recovery.

Suboxone Statistics

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration:

  • There are fewer than 16,000 physicians permitted to prescribe Suboxone in the U.S. as of 2013.
  • 3 million prescriptions were written for buprenorphine in 2012–this number includes the combination formulation of Suboxone as well as the buprenorphine-only medication known as Subutex.
  • The number of buprenorphine-related ER visits quintupled between 2006 and 2011.

Teen Suboxone Abuse

To prevent teen Suboxone abuse before it begins:

  • Track any Suboxone available in the house and keeping it in a secure location.
  • Educate the teen regarding the use and dangers of the substance.
  • Be aware of empty wrappers or bottles that could contain Suboxone.

Resources, Articles and More Information

Naturally, the manufacturer’s website can be quite useful–although it is being used as a means of advertising. The FDA also has a number of questions and answers about Suboxone.

For more information, also see:

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If you need help with drug abuse or addiction, contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) for free at . You can also contact free narcotics and drug abuse hotline numbers.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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