Suboxone Abuse: Risks, Symptoms, and Treatment

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You may be aware of a medication called Suboxone, a common medication for treating people with opioid addictions.

Since its introduction in 2002, Suboxone has played a role in treating patients affected by Opioid Use Disorder, pulling them out of the dark hole that addiction creates.

However, with it being an opioid-based medication itself, is there potential for abuse? What are the risks that come with taking Suboxone?

In this article, we will cover:

  • What suboxone treatment is
  • What suboxone abuse entails
  • Why Suboxone is abused, and Suboxone abuse statistics
  • Suboxone abuse symptoms
  • The dangers and effects of prolonged Suboxone abuse
  • What treatment and recovery for Suboxone abuse looks like.

Let’s begin.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a form of prescription medication-assisted treatment that is used to treat Opioid Use Disorder. Suboxone contains two ingredients: Buprenorphine and naloxone.

Buprenorphine is a partial agonist to opioid receptors. It works by reducing withdrawal and craving symptoms. On the other hand, Naloxone is a partial opioid antagonist, which combats the effects of overdose.

What is Suboxone Abuse?

Suboxone abuse is simply a form of drug abuse. Drug abuse refers to the misuse of certain drugs for the purpose of pleasurable effects on the brain.

Although Suboxone’s primary purpose is to treat people with a substance use disorder, it has the potential for misuse itself.

Characteristics of Suboxone abuse include administering the medication in an amount that is more than the intended dose, ultimately to achieve an opiate high. Forms of administration may include snorting or injecting. Abuse of Suboxone can also occur recreationally when obtained from dealers or friends.

Suboxone Abuse Statistics

Although there are people who take Suboxone and abuse it, recent research suggests trends of this occurring are decreasing. In fact, 75% of adults who reported using buprenorphine in 2019 did not misuse the drug in the past 12 months.

This is significant considering buprenorphine use/prescriptions has increased compared to previous years.

Why is Suboxone Abused?

First, the opioid agonist component (Buprenorphine) and its euphoric effects.

Buprenorphine is an opioid agonist, meaning it can create euphoric effects for the user of the drug. This is because it still acts on the same opioid receptors in the brain, but not to the extent of harder drugs like heroin.

Ultimately, the subtle high that Buprenorphine can provide creates the potential for abuse as patients suffering from addiction seek out this feeling.

Secondly, self-medication and attempt to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Suboxone abuse also occurs when patients attempt to self-medicate. This may happen in between opioid doses when trying to keep withdrawal symptoms under control.

Most illicit use of Suboxone is an attempt to self-treat their symptoms. An example of this is when an individual who takes heroin uses Suboxone to ease their withdrawal symptoms when they are no longer taking the stronger opioid.

Lastly, the misconception that it’s safer than other opioids.

In several medical articles or treatment guides, it is stated that Suboxone is a safe medication to use in the treatment of Opioid Use Disorder. There are often comparisons with Methadone to show how Suboxone is usually a safer option.

While this may be true, it can create a misconception that Suboxone is completely safe and that there is no risk when taking it. This is not the case, as buprenorphine has the potential to be abused due to its partial effect on opioid receptors.

Furthermore, this may open up opportunities for users to feel like they can take much more of Suboxone than what’s required, thereby abusing the drug.

Suboxone Abuse Symptoms

If a person were to abuse Suboxone and become addicted, the symptoms experienced may be similar to those of other opiates such as heroin. These include an inability to stop taking the drug, lack of physical and emotional pain, drowsiness, depressed breathing, and feeling “high”.

Another issue that arises with this addiction to Suboxone is the intense withdrawals that accompany it due to naloxone and its role.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist which means it will try to block the effects of opiates. Therefore, when higher amounts of Suboxone are taken and injected/snorted, naloxone will attempt to block these effects – creating withdrawals due to the lack of opioid ‘high’ achieved.

Symptoms of Suboxone withdrawal include mood swings, irritability, muscle aches, flu-like symptoms, excessive sweating, and shaking.

Dangers and Effects of Prolonged Suboxone Abuse

As mentioned above, there are a series of immediate implications that can occur as a result of Suboxone abuse. But what are the dangers of long-term abuse or addiction?

Disruptions to an individual’s life could include being unable to stop taking the drug, having problems with relationships and daily activities, insomnia, and decreased ability to concentrate.

On top of this, long-term effects on the body include damage to the heart and circulatory system, damage to the respiratory system, and potentially even brain damage.

Treatment and Recovery from Suboxone Abuse: What is It Like?

While addiction to Suboxone may sound dangerous and difficult to address, there are ways to combat the issue with various treatment methodologies. The aim of this treatment is to address the intense withdrawal process.

First and foremost, any steps going forward will require medical supervision.

Healthcare professionals can dictate what treatment is right for the patient, whether that be a full detox or substitute therapy. A substitute therapy is one that involves legal narcotic drugs to treat withdrawal symptoms.

Other opioid treatment programs include individual therapy, group therapy, and even phone support. All in all, rehab will be individualized and can look different for everyone.

Conclusion

Suboxone has its fair share of risks despite the label of being a fairly safe form of medication for Opioid Use Disorder. Suboxone abuse may look like injecting, snorting, or taking higher than necessary doses of the drug.

There are symptoms that can affect individuals immediately and in the long-term. Identification of these signs and symptoms is crucial so they can get help and start to detox or treat with a different drug. What’s most important is that Suboxone is taken under medical supervision so that the risk of misuse is minimized.

References:

  1. https://sbtreatment.com/suboxone/
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/2021/10/buprenorphine-misuse-decreased-among-us-adults-with-opioid-use-disorder-from-2015-2019
  3. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/suboxone/get-high
  4. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/13633/1/RCGP_buprenorphine.pdf
  5. https://recoveryfirst.org/suboxone-abuse/
  6. https://lagunatreatment.com/drug-abuse/suboxone/dangers/
  7. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/suboxone/addictive

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