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photo of medical nurse handing a patient suboxone pills

Suboxone addiction began to be seen shortly after Suboxone was widely prescribed to treat opiate addiction back in the 1970’s. Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic and long-acting opioid that has been used for pain control and for anesthetic purposes since 1981. It was first only available as an injectable solution, but has since become available in various formulations, such as:

Buprenex – Injectable buprenorphine
Butrans – A transdermanl patch
Subutex – Buprenorhpine tablets or films for sublingual use
Suboxone and Subsolv – Buprenorphine and naloxone for sublingual use

Buprenex is approved for the treatment of pain and for anesthesia; whereas, Suboxone and Subutex are approved for the treatment of opiate addiction, both for detox and opioid maintenance therapy (OMT). The Butrans patch is approved for the treatment of chronic pain and only needs to be changed every 7 days. Since the patch delivers a continuous dose of medication, patients can control their pain without the normal highs and lows in the blood concentrations of the immediate release opioids. The highest dose Butrans patch releases 20 mcg of buprenorphine per hour. Because 7 days-worth of the medication is contained in one patch, correct usage of the patch is essential for safety. Cutting, heating, chewing or smoking the Butrans patch is a sign of a prescription pain medication addiction.

Buprenorphine binds to the opiate receptors with a great affinity (attraction) than other opiates and will displace most other opiates from the receptor. This may place an opiate-dependent patient into withdrawal if buprenorphine is used before the other opiates are out of the system. Buprenorphine has a ceiling effect, so that using more of the drug won’t cause more effects. Thus, it is less abusable than other opiates. It can, however, still be abused. In fact, per SAMHSA, there were nearly 15,000 emergency room visits in 2010 that were attributed to the nonmedical use of buprenorphine.

Buprenorphine, like other opiates, is more dangerous when combined with benzodiazepines or alcohol. The use of sedatives along with an opiate, such as buprenorphine, is cause for concern because it increases the risk of respiratory and cardiac problems and can lead to an overdose situation. Suboxone abuse and addiction isn’t just a stand-alone addiction disorder. It can be seen in those who abuse Suboxone when other opiates aren’t available. Instead of properly using Suboxone for a opiate maintenance program, some addicts will use it only to prevent withdrawal symptoms when they have ran out of their opiate of choice, such as heroin or Oxys.

Because buprenorphine is used in the long-term treatment of opiate addiction, it is not considered by some addicts to be as harmful. This is far from the truth. The especially harmful part of being addicted to Suboxone is that it typically is seen in those who are replacing other drugs and swing back-and-forth between using Suboxone and other, more dangerous opiates.

Suboxone addiction is becoming more prevalent as its supply on the streets increasing steadily. Once addicted to Suboxone, or when it has abused, it is unlikely to be recommended again for an opiate maintenance program. As such, it is prudent to locate an inpatient or residential drug detox program to begin treatment. After the Suboxone detox is complete, entering an inpatient or residential drug rehab can lead to favorable long-term outcomes. This is especially true, since Suboxone maintenance is unlikely to be an appropriate treatment for those who have abused it or have been addicted to buprenorphine.

Prescription pain pill addiction is a serious and increasing threat to the U.S. population. In fact, it is a national health crisis. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to Suboxone, buprenorphine, or other pain pills, the staff at BWR can answer your questions and help you locate an inpatient drug detox and a quality drug and alcohol rehab to facilitate your recovery efforts.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


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