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What is Suboxone?

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

Suboxone is the trade name for the combination drug Buprenorphine-naloxone. While anyone can go to their website and read more about this it is often easier for me to explain exactly what this drug is and how it is used since there are still a lot of misconceptions about this medication both on the internet and even amongst my patients who have taking this for years. Buprenorphine is actually the active ingredient in Suboxone that produces the favorable effects such as controlling opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is known as a partial opioid agonist which means it attaches to the same pain receptors that pain pills and heroin do but instead of fully activating the receptors it only partly activates them which is why there is a ceiling effect on the amount of Suboxone you can take and also why you can't really get high on Suboxone. You can also think of Suboxone as partially blocking the pain receptors which is why you can go into what is known as precipitated withdrawal if you take Suboxone too soon after taking an opioid. The naloxone component of the drug which is also known as Narcan is a pure opioid blocker and its sole purpose is to deter abuse since it becomes activated and takes its full effect only when it is injected. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually the Buprenorphine that causes precipitated withdrawals and NOT the naloxone so you can go into precipitated withdrawal even if you take Subutex which is pure Buprenorphine without the naloxone attached.

Suboxone film

How Does It Help

Suboxone has what is known as a very strong affinity or attraction to the pain receptors in your body which means that even if you had recently taken heroin or another opioid such as Vicodin or Percocet the Suboxone will actually kick those opioids off the pain receptors and attach to them instead. This is the basis for what causes precipitated withdrawal as mentioned above. However, what this also means is that if you have been on a steady dose of Suboxone for a while and were to relapse on an opioid it is not going to have the same effect that it would if you had not been on Suboxone. The Suboxone is essentially sitting on your pain receptors and blocking other opioids from attaching. But remember, Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist so your pain receptors are still being activated to some degree which is why it does such a great job at controlling cravings.

Are There Different Forms of Suboxone

Suboxone is just the trade name for the most popular brand of Buprenorphine-naloxone and there are many different forms and names for the same drug. It is essentially the "Kleenex" of tissue paper or the "Chapstick" of lip balm. People will often use the term Suboxone even if they are referring to a different form or brand. Below are just a few of the different names for various Buprenorphine products.

  • Generic Buprenorphine-naloxone tablet (recently a generic film version was released)

  • Subutex tablet (Buprenorphine only)

  • Zubsolv tablet

  • Bunavail buccal film

  • Probuphine implant

  • Sublocade injection

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