Suboxone is a medication that can help people overcome addiction to opioids and the symptoms of withdrawal. It’s been called a safer alternative to methadone, although it’s still a controlled substance. Suboxone is a combination of two different drugs: buprenorphine (a partial opioid agonist) and naloxone (a pure opioid antagonist). An agonist is a drug that activates certain receptors in the brain; for example, heroin is a full opioid agonist, meaning it triggers all of the opioid receptors and produces such severe effects. An antagonist is a drug that blocks opioids by attaching to the opioid receptors without activating them. The receptors are shut down, and signals are prevented from reaching the nervous system. The result is that suboxone is a partial agonist, meaning that to a small degree it activates the opioid receptors in the brain, but it blocks other opioids. This lesser opioid effect is what makes suboxone able to suppress withdrawal symptoms and cravings. By giving you a little taste of the effects of an opioid, it allows you to slowly wean off of stronger drugs.

Suboxone has been proven very effective – a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information looked at the amount of heroin use over the course of 90 days and found that suboxone reduced use from 38.64 days to 8.5 days. Unfortunately, just because it’s a much weaker form of opioid doesn’t mean that it isn’t addictive. It is sold as a sublingual strip (meaning it is placed under the tongue to dissolve), but if you dissolve it in water and inject it or snort it, or take it with certain other drugs, it can get you high. Naloxone is activated when it reaches the bloodstream, meaning that instead of taking a drug that is a half a partial opioid agonist and half an opioid antagonist, the user is consuming two opioid agonists. People frequently trade or sell their suboxone for other drugs or cash.

Some of the signs of suboxone abuse are nausea, mood swings, muscle aches, headaches, fever, and insomnia. Respiratory depression, or an inability of the lungs to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen as a result of slow and shallow breathing, is one of the more serious side effects.  The average person needs to take 12 to 20 breaths a minute, but opioids slow down the central nervous system, which controls breathing and heart rate. One of the signs of an opioid overdose is taking less than 12 breaths a minute. If untreated, respiratory depression can lead to respiratory arrest, heart failure, and death.

Another problem is that the naloxone in the mixture can sometimes cause withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, changes in blood pressure, rapid heart rate, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and tremors. The effects of withdrawal might be enough to send someone back to a stronger drug to counteract them.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.



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