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What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a prescription medication that is most commonly used to treat individuals suffering from opioid use disorders. It may come as a surprise to find out that this medication is in fact a member of the same class of drugs. Is Suboxone an opiate? In fact, Suboxone is a combination medication that contains two different opioid drugs: buprenorphine and naloxone.
Buprenorphine is the primary active component of Suboxone. As an opioid, buprenorphine satisfies the urgent need that opioid addicts have, but it does not provide the same euphoric feelings that recreational opioids offer. Naloxone, the second component of Suboxone, is merely present to make the medication more difficult to abuse. Together, buprenorphine and naloxone work together to help people stay off of more dangerous opioids.
Treating Opioid Use Disorders
When a person suffers from an opioid use disorder, a number of severe consequences are likely. They may experience the damaging effects of addiction in their interpersonal relationships and careers, and it is common for individuals suffering from addiction to suffer from significant legal and financial repercussions as well. The greatest danger, of course, is that a person will overdose on opioids. In the United States alone, approximately 128 people die every day due to opioid overdoses.
People addicted to opioids often recognize these consequences and risks, and they may make serious efforts to quit or control their opioid abuse. The vast majority, however, are unable to do so. Withdrawal symptoms are so arduous, that most people are unable to get through the detox process at all.
Those who manage to get through it are often faced with lives reduced to shambles after years of addiction; picking up the pieces of their ruined lives can be overwhelming, and unfortunately the heroin high offers relief for this. Without outside help, relapse is inevitable.
Suboxone is often prescribed in the context of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. Medication-assisted therapy is a type of addiction treatment program that is offered at many outpatient treatment centers. Suboxone is uniquely beneficial because it reduces the symptoms of withdrawal that can be a major impediment for people trying to quit opioids.
It also significantly mitigates the cravings that people otherwise experience in their first few weeks and months off of opioids. While some degree of cravings and withdrawal symptoms are inevitable, the more important fact is that Suboxone has been proven to improve treatment outcomes considerably.
Suboxone is not used to “cure” opioid use disorders. In fact, the medication is only one component of a MAT program. Medication-assisted treatment is designed to offer patients a comprehensive “whole patient” approach to addiction treatment. As such, a number of different treatment modalities are emphasized during MAT. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, other forms of counseling, support groups, and skills training.
Suboxone is used to supplement these behavioral interventions — and it makes patients more receptive to them. When a person is going through arduous withdrawal symptoms, it is often difficult to engage in psychotherapy or other treatment methods. Suboxone treatment is used to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings, allowing patients to fully commit to their treatment programs without the distractions of full-fledged detox.
Can You Get High on Suboxone?
While Suboxone treatment is effective when it is used as prescribed under medical supervision, some individuals use Suboxone recreationally. It is difficult to get high off of Suboxone, since buprenorphine offers only limited euphoric effects, and the presence of naloxone makes it impossible to inject without immediately beginning opioid withdrawal.
Nonetheless, many people with no intention of quitting opioids or getting sober try to obtain Suboxone so that they can limit their suffering during the periods when they do not have access to recreational drugs. In this case, people use Suboxone not to treat their addiction, but to enable it and smooth the rough edges.
Individuals who abuse Suboxone can develop Suboxone addiction, which can significantly worsen an already existing opioid use disorder. One danger of Suboxone abuse is that a person will take a high dose of Suboxone hoping to get high. This is generally futile, since the buprenorphine component of Suboxone is notable for its “ceiling effect,” an upper limit on euphoric effects. Research shows that individuals can tolerate doses up to 70 times higher than prescribed doses without getting high — and without experiencing a Suboxone overdose. Nonetheless, Suboxone abuse can be fatal. When Suboxone and alcohol are combined, or when Suboxone is combined with other drugs, drug interactions can overtax the body and result in life-threatening respiratory depression.
While the medication is sometimes used recreationally, Suboxone is an effective drug for treating opioid use disorders. Unlike methadone, another common medication used in opioid replacement therapy, Suboxone can be prescribed on an outpatient basis. Outpatient treatment centers can help people suffering from addiction by designing a comprehensive medication-assisted treatment program that addresses all their needs.
Suboxone treatment helps individuals make use of other treatment modalities, allowing them to build a foundation for long-term sobriety. When they eventually do taper off of Suboxone, they will have already developed the skills and coping techniques they need to avoid relapse. Moreover, by working with trained staff and building a strong social support system at an outpatient treatment center, they’ll have begun living lives of which they can be proud.