Addiction to opioid drugs and opiate derivatives is one of the most challenging addictions to beat. While millions do manage to achieve and maintain sobriety from these drugs, recovery from opioids is often marked by lingering cravings and depression that can last for years after cessation. To lessen the severity of opioid cravings, doctors will sometimes prescribe opioid agonists like Suboxone for patients in recovery from addiction. Unfortunately, Suboxone can also be habit-forming and addictive.
What is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a prescription medicine that’s classified as a partial opioid agonist. The drug is a mixture of both buprenorphine and naloxone, which are medications used to treat opioid addiction. Suboxone can only be obtained via a legal prescription and taken under strict medical observation because of the risk of abuse.
While millions of people have successfully and safely used Suboxone to treat opioid addiction, a minority of opioid agonist patients will develop an addiction to the drug. The medication works by impacting the same receptors in the brain that are also activated when someone abuses an opioid such as heroin or OxyContin. But instead of fully activating these receptors, Suboxone binds to them and only partially blocks the receptors. The medicine helps reduce cravings for opioids and also lessens the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Also, Suboxone can block the effects of opioid drugs if someone relapses. This blocking action can also help prevent a fatal overdose in relapsing patients.
The FDA approved Suboxone in 2002, and the drug was initially dispensed in a tablet form. Since then, the drug has been given other forms, and people can administer the medication in different ways. It’s possible to obtain prescription Suboxone as a sublingual film, a skin patch, and as an implant.
How is Suboxone abused?
Doctors will typically dispense Suboxone in strict doses to mitigate the risks of someone becoming addicted. Unfortunately, it is possible for someone to order illegal Suboxone online, or obtain the drugs on the black market. Some patients may participate in “doctor shopping” schemes as a way to get prescriptions from several doctors at once.
When someone is severely addicted to Suboxone, ingesting the drug as a tablet or waiting for a Suboxone strip to dissolve under the tongue is often not enough. Users will attempt to inject Suboxone to get a quicker, more intense high. They may crush Suboxone tablets, dissolve the powder in water, and then inject the mixture either into a vein or into a muscle. It is also possible for Suboxone addicts to dissolve the sublingual strips in water and then inject the resulting liquid. If loved ones notice numerous Suboxone prescriptions or paraphernalia for injecting drugs within a friend or family member’s possession, these are signs of Suboxone addiction and abuse.
What are some of the signs of Suboxone abuse?
Suboxone will minimize a person’s appetite. If someone is abusing Suboxone, they will typically exhibit sudden weight loss. A disinterest in usual hobbies and activities and social withdrawal are other symptoms of Suboxone abuse. People with severe addiction will also experience financial issues and legal problems. Many of the physical signs of Suboxone abuse are similar to those seen in people with an addiction to opioids. Stomach upset, dilated pupils, drowsiness, and slurred speech are common signs of abuse. Suboxone withdrawal is also similar to withdrawal symptoms seen in opioid addiction. Users will experience chills, fever, muscle aches and cramps, depression, and flu-like symptoms.
Why would someone abuse Suboxone?
In most cases, people abuse Suboxone by obtaining the drugs on the black market and then using them to avoid withdrawals between doses of heroin or other powerful opioid medications. On the black market, Suboxone is called “subs,” and it is believed that people are more likely to abuse subs to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms than to use the drugs to get high. Suboxone can produce a high, but it’s not as intense as other full opioid agonist drugs.
Who is most likely to abuse Suboxone?
The people who are most likely to abuse Suboxone are those with an active and severe addiction to opioids. They will abuse the drug as a way to prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring until they can get their next dose of painkillers or illegal heroin. But in some cases, Suboxone is a preferred drug to use to get high for people who want to experience an opioid-induced euphoria, without the usual dangers associated with more powerful drugs like heroin. Suboxone abuse is also common in jails and prisons since the Suboxone sublingual films are easier to smuggle into prison than other drugs. Recent surveys have indicated that up to 12% of all drugs smuggled into U.S. prisons are Suboxone stamps.
The primary use of Suboxone is for treating those in recovery, but ER visits related to illicit and non-medical use of Suboxone have increased in recent years. People who are not addicted to more powerful opioids may choose Suboxone because it gives a less intense high, and is often less expensive and easier to obtain on the black market than other opioid drugs.
What are the treatment options for Suboxone abuse and addiction?
It is unfortunate that a medication that’s effective for treating opioid addiction can become a source of addiction itself. The first step toward treating Suboxone addiction and abuse is to detox the patient safely. In most cases, doctors will replace Suboxone with naltrexone medication to ease withdrawal and also prevent someone from relapsing with stronger opioid drugs. Naltrexone completely shuts down the opioid receptors in the brain, and the FDA has approved the drug for treating opioid addiction. After a patient has safely detoxed and gone through the withdrawal process, ongoing talk therapy, and participation in post-treatment support programs is imperative to avoid a relapse. Support from loved ones and counselors is also critical to ensuring a successful outcome.
If you or a loved one are addicted to Suboxone, there is hope. Please contact the addiction specialists at Windward Way today to learn more about treatment for opioid addiction.