Suboxone: Buprenorphine and Naloxone for Opioid Addiction

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Suboxone is a branded medication containing both naloxone and buprenorphine in a single tablet. Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication capable of reversing opioid overdose. As an opioid antagonist, naloxone attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking and reversing the effects of opioids. According to WHO (World Health Organization), the medication is deemed essential to a fully functional health system.

Buprenorphine is another medication approved by the FDA and proven effective for treating heroin addiction.  Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. As such, the medication will activate opioid receptors in the brain without delivering either the side effects or the rewarding effects associated with opioid use. Used as part of MAT (medication-assisted treatment), buprenorphine can alleviate the intensity of cravings and opioid withdrawal symptoms. 

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As a combination medication, Suboxone has less potential for abuse than buprenorphine in isolation. Attempting to inject this medication will not trigger euphoria but will instead bring about immediate and acute opioid withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone gained FDA approval in 2002.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a prescription medication classified under schedule III of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act). 

Suboxone is available as a branded medication containing a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone available as an oral strip that is slowly metabolized after dissolving in your mouth. Suboxone is also available in as a generic tablet or oral film. The medication must be administered only by a medical professional trained and certified by the federal government. 

Like all schedule III drugs, Suboxone has some medical utility, but could lead to abuse and dependence. 

Suboxone is used for the substitution treatment of OUD (opioid use disorder), with the medication prescribed to replace opioids of abuse. 

The oral strips contain both naloxone and buprenorphine in the following strengths: 

  • 2mg buprenorphine / 0.5mg naloxone
  • 4mg buprenorphine / 1mg naloxone
  • 8mg buprenorphine / 2mg naloxone
  • 12 mg buprenorphine / 3mg naloxone

Some evidence suggests that Suboxone can be effective for reducing opioid abuse and improving retention in addiction treatment.

An image of an individual considering the use of suboxone, which contains buprenorphine and naloxone, for opioid addiction

What is it Used For?

Suboxone is typically indicated for the treatment of opioid dependence and is approved by the FDA for this application. 

Less frequently, the medication is used off-label to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. When used off-label, Suboxone must be administered as part of a licensed medical detox program at an accredited facility. 

ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) recommends Suboxone for the treatment of opioid dependence as part of a medication-assisted treatment plan.

Most medical detox programs take place in residential rehab centers. The treatment team can administer medications like Suboxone to streamline the withdrawal process. 

If Suboxone is used to treat opioid dependence, much of the therapy can take place in an outpatient setting. 

Suboxone Side Effects

Using Suboxone can trigger various adverse side effects, some mild and some more severe. 

These are the most common Suboxone side effects:  

  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Burning sensation on tongue
  • Redness in the mouth
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Sweating
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Most of these more common side effects will dissipate after a few days, seldom lingering for more than a few weeks. If side effects worsen or persist for months, consult your treatment provider. 

Some people experience more serious reactions after taking Suboxone. If any of the following symptoms present during MAT with Suboxone, call 911 and summon immediate medical assistance:

  • Breathing problems: Taking Suboxone in high doses can bring on breathing problems leading to a potentially fatal coma. This usually happens when Suboxone is used in combination with other drugs. The risk of developing breathing problems while taking Suboxone is heightened in those with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
  • Lowered cortisol levels: Suboxone can sometimes cause adrenal insufficiency, a condition characterized by lowered levels of the cortisol hormone.
  • Liver damage: Suboxone may trigger mild or severe liver damage. 
  • Chronic allergic reactions: In rare cases, Suboxone can spark an allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis. Symptoms include skin rash, hives, breathing problems, and swelling of the throat, lips, and tongue. Call for emergency medical assistance if you experience an allergic reaction after taking Suboxone.
  • Abuse and dependence: The long-term use of Suboxone long-term can trigger physical and psychological dependence. The risk of dependence developing is increased i if you take Suboxone while using opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol.

How Long Does Suboxone Stay in Your System?

Treatment for dependence on opioids unfolds over two stages, the induction phase and the maintenance phase. Suboxone can be beneficial during both phases of treatment. 

During the induction phase, Suboxone can reduce the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms in those addicted to short-acting opioids like heroin, morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. 

If Suboxone is used during ongoing medication-assisted treatment, the dosage needs to be regularly monitored and stabilized. Some people use Suboxone for just a few months during the initial phase of recovery, while others continue with Suboxone treatment for a year or more.

When your treatment team decides to discontinue use of Suboxone, a gradually tapered reduction in dosage will mitigate adverse withdrawal symptoms.

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Medication-Assisted Treatment at California Detox

If you are addicted to opioid painkillers, heroin, or alcohol, we provide MAT (medication-assisted treatment) as a core component of our treatment programs here at California Detox

Choose to engage in therapy at our luxury beachside rehab at any level of intensity, from outpatient programs through to residential rehab. 

Whether inpatient or outpatient MAT makes the best fit, you can streamline the detoxification process with a supervised medical detox. Your treatment team can prescribe medications to reduce the severity of cravings and withdrawal symptoms as your system is purged of toxins. 

Many people find that medication-assisted treatment is effective throughout ongoing treatment in combination with counseling and psychotherapy. While medications can help address the physical component of alcoholism and opioid addiction, psychotherapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can help you attack the psychological aspect of addiction. 

If you have a dual diagnosis – an addiction with a co-occurring mental health condition – we provide integrated and coordinated treatment of both conditions here at California Detox.

To detox from alcohol or drugs and engage with evidence-based treatment and holistic therapies in an inpatient or outpatient setting, reach out to California Detox today by calling 949.567.8790.


Suboxone is safe if taken exactly as prescribed. If you attempt to counteract the time-release mechanism by injecting the medication, this will not trigger euphoria, but will instead cause the immediate onset of opioid withdrawal. In the event of relapse after MAT with Suboxone, opioid overdose can occur if the medication is used in combination with heroin or prescription opioids.
No, suboxone is not prescribed as a pain medication. It is an opioid antagonist used to treat addiction to opioids and opiates.


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