Hidden Dangers of Suboxone Maintenance

Suboxone was approved for the treatment of opioid addiction in 2002 and continues to be one of the main treatment options for those who have become chemically dependent. People with an opioid substance abuse disorder are either addicted to heroin or one of the opioid prescription drugs. These include, but are not limited to, morphine, Percocet, Vicodin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine.

Suboxone is the brand name for the combination of two medications: buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means that it affects the brain in a way that is similar to opioids but at a lower or milder level. It does this by binding to the opioid receptors very tightly in the brain, which causes the brain to think it has received opioids. When it attaches to the receptors and essentially tricks the brain, it stays for about 24 hours.

During this time, full opioid agonists, for example, heroin, are not able to make a connection. The second ingredient, naloxone, is an opioid antagonist and is meant to discourage misuse or abuse. It issued for the partial or complete reversal of an opioid overdose. The buprenorphine allows the user to experience some mild pain relief and they will feel more normal and alert. It is the naloxone that prevents the user from experiencing the “rush” or euphoric high, and the complete dulling of pain.

Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, incorporates the use of FDA approved medications, combined with routine counseling and behavioral therapies. While taking Suboxone to assist with the physical withdrawals and cravings for opioids, the person in treatment will also be receiving intense daily therapy or night treatment programs in most cases. There has been some great success with those partaking in Suboxone programs.  Unfortunately, as with all drugs, there is still a potential for misuse, abuse, and addiction with the Suboxone itself. While treating chronic opioid dependence with Suboxone, we need to be aware of all the potential warning signs of Suboxone abuse.

Hidden Dangers of Suboxone Maintenance

Dangers and Signs of Suboxone Abuse

In two U.S. surveys, it was shown that 97% of people with chronic opioid use disorder that used illicit (meaning not prescribed to them), used it to prevent cravings. 90 % used it to prevent withdrawals, and 29% used it to save money. Of all the people surveyed, 8 to 25 % admitted to using the illicit buprenorphine to get high. While the response that it was not the same high as their opioid of choice, they still sought out the drug and misused it.  This shows the potential for abuse.

It is dangerous to abuse buprenorphine as there are harmful risks, such as fatal overdose. Overdoses and deaths due to Suboxone usually only result when the buprenorphine is combined with benzodiazepines or alcohol. This is because the Suboxone is meant to have a much more mild effect than a true opioid, and this can lead to a person seeking the “high” to mix the drug with another chemical. One example is mixing with Xanax. Both of these slow down the respiratory system and can be a recipe for disaster.  Between the years 2005 to 2010, the number of related deaths jumped from 3,161 to 30,135. This aligned with the increase of availability of the drug since it was introduced for treatment in 2002.

Another risk is that buprenorphine/naloxone can be illicitly injected, which can cause infections complications that can lead to death.  There have been several studies in France, New Zealand, and Australia that statistically shows the higher percentage of diversion to intravenous use with Suboxone.

Studies in the United States generally support the findings of studies from Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. For example, Cicero et al recruited 1,000 participants who were seeking treatment for prescription narcotic abuse. During surveys in 2006 and 2007, 20 to 35 percent of participants acknowledged the misuse of buprenorphine.

The symptoms of a Suboxone overdose can be similar to that of a true opioid overdose: confusion, dizziness blurred vision, pinpoint pupils, blue lips and nails, lacking coordination and motor skills, slurred speech, and extreme fatigue.

Suboxone Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are suffering from dependence on Suboxone, or any other drug, the professional and caring staff at Recreate Life Counseling can help. After going through a safe detox, we can offer many different treatment options. These include: partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient medicated assisted treatment, day or night treatment, as well as recovery residences. Our main goal is to assist the chemically dependent person towards a strong recovery and a peaceful, happy life. Please call us today to speak with an admissions counselor. We will be happy to help get you started on your road to recovery!