Sublocade is a medication that is prescribed to help people recover from opioid use disorder. By helping individuals stay clean from recreational opiates, Sublocade can help individuals develop long-term sobriety and rebuild their lives.
The opioid epidemic is currently doing catastrophic damage in the United States and throughout the world. In 2019 alone, approximately 10.1 million people misused or abused opioid drugs. While many of these individuals abused illicit recreational drugs like heroin, the vast majority of opioid addictions in the United States are being driven by highly potent prescription opioid painkillers, including fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Opioid addictions can take over a person’s life, causing them to lose employment, friends, family, and their physical and mental health. Opioid addiction also takes lives. In 2019, roughly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdoses.
What is Sublocade?
Sublocade is a brand name for buprenorphine, a prescription drug that can help individuals who are addicted to opioids recover from physical dependence. The drug allows addicts to replace recreational drugs with an alternative medication that is far safer. By switching from recreational opioids like heroin to Sublocade, individuals can reduce their withdrawal symptoms and mitigate cravings for opiates.
There are many formulations of the drug buprenorphine. If you are wondering what makes Sublocade different, the main distinguishing factor is the route of administration. Sublocade, unlike some other forms of buprenorphine, is administered as an injection every month. This allows the active ingredient, buprenorphine, to slowly spread throughout the body. It can take a month for the drug to be fully metabolized. This makes monthly Sublocade injections far more convenient than daily pills. For this reason, Sublocade is increasingly recommended by outpatient treatment providers.
Sublocade, as well as other formulations of buprenorphine, are technically opioid drugs. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, however, which means that it only partially activates opioid receptors in the brain. As such, buprenorphine does not lead to the same euphoric high that other recreational opioids produce. By allowing a person to satisfy their cravings for opioids without causing a high, buprenorphine makes it possible to withdraw safely and effectively from dangerous recreational opioids.
Benefits of Sublocade
Sublocade, as well as other formulations of buprenorphine, is generally used as part of an opioid replacement therapy plan. Opioid replacement therapy involves switching from a dangerous high-producing opioid to a more benign and regulated one. Since Sublocade is an opioid partial agonist, it satisfies opioid cravings without producing a high. In fact, Sublocade is known for its so-called “ceiling effect.” This means that even when an individual takes a high dose of the drug, the effects will stop increasing after a certain point. This makes the medication very difficult to abuse, unlike the vast majority of opiates.
The primary benefits of Sublocade include:
- Reduces withdrawal symptoms during opioid withdrawal
- Reduces cravings during opioid withdrawal
- Lowers the likelihood of relapse
- Lowers mortality rate among addicts by discouraging relapse
- Helps individuals in recovery benefit from behavioral therapies
This last benefit is of the utmost importance. Opioid withdrawal can be an excruciatingly painful experience. Behavioral therapies, including group therapy and one-on-one therapy, can be of enormous help for individuals with substance use disorders. Unfortunately, the agonies of opioid withdrawal often cause rehab participants to relapse before they have begun to reap the benefits of behavioral therapy. Many find withdrawal too distracting to even effectively participate in therapy! Sublocade helps clients get through this critical period of early recovery, by making the cravings and withdrawal symptoms of opioid withdrawal far more manageable.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Sublocade is generally prescribed in the context of an outpatient rehab’s medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan. Medication-assisted treatment is a clinically effective treatment modality for substance use disorders. While the term may lead one to assume that it involves medication exclusively, the reality is that MAT involves a two-pronged attack. MAT consists of both pharmaceutical drugs and behavioral therapy. During medication-assisted treatment, clients utilize medications so that they can get the full spectrum of benefits from several distinct types of behavioral therapy.
Medication-assisted treatment is generally utilized for opioid addiction and alcohol addiction since there are more medications available that treat these two types of physical dependence. Sublocade, as well as other medications like methadone, Suboxone, and naltrexone, offer effective treatment for opioid dependence. By taking part in a comprehensive medication-assisted treatment program, clients in rehab can reduce their likelihood of relapse, develop the tools and social support systems they need, and begin rebuilding their lives in sobriety.
For decades, the primary drug used to treat opioid addiction was methadone. As part of an opioid replacement therapy strategy, methadone could reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The development of buprenorphine offered an alternative to methadone, one that was far more readily available than methadone. This newer drug, which is about as effective as methadone, continues to be popular at many outpatient rehab centers. Buprenorphine is generally administered as a daily medication. When taken as prescribed, clients ingest it sublingually through the lining of their mouths. During medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine, clients generally start with a high dose to ease withdrawal symptoms. Once they have a strong foundation of sober skills, a physician can supervise a gradual and relatively painless tapering process.
Sublocade is a much newer formulation of buprenorphine, with some unique benefits. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017. Unlike other medications, like Suboxone, Sublocade is not a combination drug. It only contains buprenorphine, and no other active ingredients can be found. It is also unique because physicians administer it via a long-lasting injection.
Sublocade was developed and is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Idivior. Each dose of Sublocade is a pellet that is injected underneath the skin. The pellet is designed to slowly disintegrate over a long period of time. This means that the active ingredient, buprenorphine, is released at a steady and unvarying rate for an entire month. During that time, clients do not need to worry about taking additional doses.
Can Sublocade Be Abused?
While Sublocade is convenient and clinically effective, many clients are hesitant to begin Sublocade treatment. In fact, prejudices against medication-assisted treatment prevent countless people each year from getting the help they so sorely need. The reason clients sometimes fear Sublocade is because the active ingredient is buprenorphine, which is an opioid drug. Many people wonder, “Am I simply replacing one opiate with another opiate?”
It is vital to understand that buprenorphine is part of a unique class of drugs known as opioid partial agonists. While it is an opioid, buprenorphine stands apart from recreational opioids because it does not lead to a high. In fact, buprenorphine acts on opioid receptors very weakly. Taking higher doses of buprenorphine, as addicts are sometimes tempted to do, will also not produce a high, because buprenorphine has a built-in “ceiling effect.”
While there are some ways of abusing Sublocade, taking the medication in the context of a medication-assisted treatment program at a rehab is generally safe. Clients do no self-administer the drug, and staff supervision makes it nearly impossible to abuse this safe and well-tolerated medication.
Sublocade Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Physicians working at a rehab can prescribe Suboxone as part of a medication-assisted treatment program. The drug helps reduce withdrawal symptoms and mitigates cravings for opioids. It also blocks the effects of recreational opioids, making it far more difficult to get high from other opiates like fentanyl, heroin, and oxycodone.
Unlike methadone, which is legally only possible to obtain at specific locations, clients can get Sublocade from any physician’s office. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that this drug is tightly controlled and monitored. Sublocade treatment generally follows a specific progression. Before beginning Sublocade treatment, clients will generally start off with an oral form of buprenorphine. After a week, their physician can decide if long-term Sublocade treatment is appropriate.
Administering Sublocade is simple and quick. After the client enters the physician’s office, their physician will administer the injection. It is generally injected into the abdomen. Sometimes the skin around the injection site will become slightly harder for a brief period. This is normal and nothing to fear. It won’t take long for the Sublocade pellet to be absorbed into the body.
After your first Sublocade dose, staff members at your rehab will continue to supervise and evaluate you. After a week or so, it is normal to attend a follow-up visit with your physician to ensure that the medication is having appropriate effects.
How Long Is Sublocade Treatment?
The length of Sublocade treatment varies from person to person. As long as treatment continues, clients must receive monthly injections of Sublocade — though it is also possible to switch to another formulation of buprenorphine. In most cases, Sublocade treatment ends when the client or their treatment provider decides it is appropriate to do so. It may be appropriate to end Sublocade treatment in the following circumstances:
- When a person has been sober for a significant period of time
- When a person has developed a strong set of coping tools and relapse prevention techniques
- When a person has developed a strong sober social support system and a full life
- When a person feels like withdrawing from their opioid replacement medication is the next indicated step
Withdrawing from Sublocade can lead to some withdrawal symptoms. While these symptoms are not as severe as withdrawing from recreational opiates like heroin, they can be uncomfortable. For this reason, physicians plan and supervise a gradual withdrawal plan. Weaning off of Sublocade under medical supervision is known as tapering. Conducted slowly and as directed, the tapering process is generally painless.
Side Effects of Sublocade
While Sublocade treatment is generally safe, especially when it is administered by medical professionals, it is still a powerful opioid medication. As such, the drug can cause side effects. Common side effects of Sublocade include:
- Pain or itchiness at the injection site
- Changes in liver enzyme levels
It is not possible to overdose on Sublocade when the medication is taken as prescribed. However, the medication is still an opioid, which means it is a central nervous system depressant. When the medication is abused, altered, or combined with other central nervous system depressants, serious issues can occur. Individuals who combine Sublocade with alcohol, heroin, or other opioids put themselves at a high risk of respiratory depression, coma, and even death.
What Makes Sublocade Different?
Given the many opioid addiction drugs on the market, clients are often confused about what makes Sublocade different. As this article has explained, Sublocade is simply the brand name for a specific formulation of the drug buprenorphine. There are many brand names and formulations for the opioid replacement drug buprenorphine. Sublocade is unique because it is a long-lasting formulation of buprenorphine that is injected. Most formulations of buprenorphine involve daily sublingual doses, but Sublocade only requires monthly doses.
Some individuals find themselves confusing Sublocade and Suboxone, another popular opioid replacement drug. Suboxone also contains buprenorphine as its active ingredient. Unlike Sublocade, however, Suboxone is administered as a sublingual pill daily. Suboxone also contains another ingredient, naloxone. Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, is present in the medication as a deterrent to abuse. Suboxone can be very helpful, especially during the initial stages of opioid addiction treatment. However, some clients do find it inconvenient to take daily doses. Suboxone not only requires infrequent dosing, but healthcare professionals administer it and are thereby able to prevent misuse and abuse.
Sublocade Treatment at NuView Treatment Center
NuView Treatment Center is an outpatient rehab located in West Los Angeles. Our modern facility accepts clients of all backgrounds and addiction severities. We specialize in treating drug and alcohol use disorders, as well as comorbid mental health conditions. Whether you are just beginning to recognize the signs of addiction or need help rebuilding your life from the ground up, our evidence-based outpatient programs can help.
Our physicians and masters-level clinicians offer the latest evidence-based addiction treatment modalities. This includes medication-assisted treatment with Sublocade, when applicable. All plans include a variety of behavioral therapies conducted in group settings and on a one-on-one basis. Our team believes that addiction treatment should never be one-size-fits-all. Instead, our caseworkers and staff members work hard to develop person-focused individualized treatment plans for every client who walks in our doors. These plans are evidence-based but above all compassionate.
Levels of care that we offer at NuView Treatment Center include:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs)
- Outpatient programs (OPs)
- Aftercare planning
If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid addiction or mental health problems, help is available. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation from a NuView Treatment Center staff member.