What is Suboxone®?

Suboxone is one of the primary drugs prescribed for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD), particularly as part of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plans. The medication is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, and it’s used primarily to reduce cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and the overdose effects associated with opioid misuse. 

Suboxone was introduced to the pharmaceutical market in the early 2000s as an alternative to methadone, which had been the primary medication used for OUD treatment in the preceding decades. While highly effective at managing cravings and withdrawal, methadone was seeing increasing misuse to a dangerous degree. The problems with methadone continue to this day, and the CDC estimates that one-third of prescription painkiller deaths in 2009 were caused by the drug. Suboxone has a much lower potential for misuse and overdose, and it can even lower a patient’s risk of overdose during treatment.

How does Suboxone work?

The effectiveness of Suboxone lies in how the two component substances complement one another during treatment. Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, makes up the majority of the dosage, and it binds with the brain’s opioid receptors to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms without fully activating the receptors and causing the euphoric effects of a high. 

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning that when it binds to the opioid receptors, it essentially clogs them and stops opioids from binding. The effect also allows it to force out opioids that have already attached to receptors, reducing their impact and reversing the physical depression of breathing associated with an overdose. 

Used together in the form of Suboxone, these two drugs dramatically reduce the risk of mortality due to overdose. They also mitigate cravings for as long as a day and make withdrawal symptoms less uncomfortable and more manageable. This relief allows patients to focus on addressing the underlying causes of OUD and go about their lives in a healthy, functional way.

Is Suboxone safe?

Suboxone was created with the health of patients in mind, and one of Suboxone’s benefits is the improved safety it offers over methadone. While methadone, like buprenorphine, never creates a euphoric high, it’s still possible to develop a habit that leads to misuse and overdose. This led to increasing numbers of methadone-related deaths throughout the early 2000s.

By contrast, Suboxone carries a much lower risk of dependency and overdose. Buprenorphine is one of the very few opioids that has a “ceiling effect,” after which point higher doses do not lead to more severe effects. The addition of naloxone also protects users from overdoses as described above, leading to a safer and easier-to-use medication.

That said, Suboxone is not without side effects. These effects are largely physical and are rarely severe. They may include nausea and vomiting, insomnia, drowsiness, constipation, and headaches. If you have a history of liver, kidney, or lung problems, or if you plan to become pregnant, consult with your medical provider before starting Suboxone. 



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