Subutex Abuse

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What Is Subutex?

Subutex is the trade name for the partial opioid agonist buprenorphine. It is marketed for medically assisted addiction treatment—more specifically, it is used to treat opioid dependence. Subutex is used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and to help reduce cravings associated with opioid dependence. It can be used to initiate detoxification as well as for longer-term medical maintenance. It is available as a sublingual tablet which, when used properly, is placed under the tongue and dissolved.

person holding white pillsThe buprenorphine molecule binds to the same opioid receptors as heroin and, in doing so, subsequently blocks heroin’s ability to produce its full range of effects. While it elicits a weaker opioid effect than drugs like morphine and heroin, there is still potential for abuse due to feelings of euphoria it elicits.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) includes buprenorphine on its list of medications that are dangerous and harmful when used incorrectly.

Signs and Symptoms

In tablet form, Subutex has a higher risk of abuse than Suboxone (buprenorphine combined with naloxone—which is an opioid receptor antagonist, added in order to prevent abuse). Those who abuse Subutex typically crush and snort it or inject it. When abused in this manner, it can produce euphoric effects similar to that of heroin and morphine.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Experiencing the following signs of an opioid withdrawal syndrome can be a sure sign of dependence:

  • Yawning.
  • Secretion of tears.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Sweating.
  • Goose bumps.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Insomnia.

The signs of abuse, as with any type of opiate or opioid, could involve:

  • Persistent failure to fulfill obligations at school, work, or home.
  • Neglecting hobbies and recreational activities.
  • Mood swings.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes.
  • Nosebleeds/nasal damage.
  • Signs of injection use such as bruising.

Again, changes in interests are common. The addict might:

  • Lose interest in sex.
  • Reject activities that were formerly of interest.
  • Change their circle of friends
  • Have difficulties with money.

If you or a loved one presents with these signs or symptoms, it’s possible that an addiction to Subutex has developed. Call 1-888-744-0069 to speak with a treatment support specialist on recovery centers for opioid addiction.

Effects of Subutex Abuse

Short-term Effects

In the short-term, misuse of Subutex may elicit a few characteristic effects that some individuals desire. Because it is a partial opioid agonist, it produces a similar “high” to opioid drugs but with far more mild sedation and generally lacking the profound cognitive impairment associated with heroin and powerful prescription opioids. These short-term effects are:

  • Euphoria.
  • Sedation.
  • Decreased pain.

Side Effects

Side effects or adverse effects are the unwanted and undesirable results of abusing Subutex. The adverse effects are as follows:

  • Body aches.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Constipation.
  • Mood swings.
  • Sweating.
  • Dizziness.
  • Vomiting.

Serious Side Effects

Talk to your doctor immediately if more serious side effects occur, as they could be signs of significant liver damage. Signs you should be concerned about include:

  • Yellow skin.
  • Dark urine.
  • Yellowing in the whites of the eyes.
  • Severe stomach pain.
  • Light-colored bowel movements.

Long-Term Effects

Subutex has less severe long-term effects than full opioid agonist drugs (such as heroin and morphine). However, the effects that might occur secondary to how the drug is used (e.g., snorted or injected) can be very serious.

Long-term effects can include those from injection use like abscesses and blooborne diseases like HIV, as well as damage from intransal use such as perforated nasal septum. Learn more about the effects of subutex.

Subutex Abuse Treatment

If you or a loved one is addicted to Subutex, you don’t have to fight the battle alone. There are a number of treatment options available to you that can cater to your personal needs and address the full scope of your Subutex addiction.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment – in which you live at the facility for the duration of your treatment – is considered by many to be the best option for those suffering from a severe and debilitating Subutex addiction, because it allows you to focus on your recovery without the distractions and stressors of everyday life. You can escape the negative influences in your environment that may otherwise hinder your recovery process, while receiving around-the-clock care and medical supervision. There are different types of inpatient facilities designed to address your individual needs. It’s important that you find a treatment center that has experience in treating Subutex addiction, as it will be necessary to taper off of the medication slowly so as to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

patient talking to doctor

Types of treatment include:

  • Residential: You will live at the treatment center while receiving Subutex detox and treatment. These recovery facilities typically have 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day programs, although the time period can be adjusted accordingly.
  • Executive: Similar to residential treatment, executive facilities cater to working professionals who wish to continue working while in recovery.
  • Luxury: This kind of treatment center has added amenities and recreational activities. Luxury rehabilitation centers typically have very private, resort-like settings.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment may be an option for some with less severe Subutex addictions. Outpatient programs grant you the freedom to live at home and tend to your responsibilities while undergoing rehabilitation. There are many different types of outpatient treatment for you to consider:

  • Intensive outpatient: This offers more structured care than many standard outpatient programs and is often used as a transition from inpatient treatment. Individuals will typically spend at least 9 hours a week in treatment, while scheduling meetings around obligations.
  • Partial hospitalization: These programs treat those who need access to various medical services while undergoing treatment for their Subutex addiction, but are unable or don’t want to reside at a facility. Partial hospitalization offers a high caliber of outpatient care; it’s common for patients to enter this program upon completion of an inpatient program. The individuals spend as much as 4 hours a day, or roughly 20 hours a week at the hospital receiving treatment.
  • Group counseling: Therapy in supportive and encouraging group settings helps the patient to develop positive communication skills, especially if his or her social life predominantly consisted of Subutex abuse.
  • Individual therapy: One-on-one therapy helps to identify and assess the underlying problems that may have caused the Subutex abuse while aiding in the development of healthy coping skills.
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA): Narcotics Anonymous is a fellowship of recovering drug addicts who follow the 12-step program originally created by Alcoholics Anonymous. Many people find comfort and support in this group environment.
  • type=”ext”]SMART Recovery: This is an alternative to 12-step programs and adheres to a 4-point program. SMART Recovery approaches addiction recovery from a scientific perspective, as opposed to a religious one, and encourages ongoing education of up-to-date recovery information.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction to Subutex, call our 24/7 hotline at 1-888-744-0069 for more information about addiction treatment.


The amount of Subutex prescriptions have been rising and, with that, so have the rates of Subutex abuse.

teen holding pills

  • Between 2010 and 2012, the number of patients prescribed Subutex increased 66% (CESAR).
  • One study revealed that more than 4,500 participants admitted to having abused buprenorphine during the course of the study (21 months).
  • Between 2006 and 2009, the emergency department visits associated with Subutex abuse rose from 4,440 to 14,266 (CESAR).
  • Furthermore, a study in France revealed that 47% of the patients prescribed Subutex for medical maintenance reported having injected the drug (CESAR).

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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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