When the Food and Drug Administration approved Suboxone in 2002, the combination of long-acting buprenorphine and overdose-halting naloxone seemed like a miracle treatment for people who needed to overcome addictions to opioid drugs. As prescription painkiller addiction has become an epidemic in the United States, Suboxone has been touted as a solid treatment to help people end their addictions to opioid drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Suboxone can be prescribed by physicians for people to take at home. This offers more flexibility than the rigorous oversight required with methadone administration; methadone can only be distributed from methadone clinics in many states, requiring patients to visit the clinic daily. Although doctors must obtain federal licensure to prescribe Suboxone, and may not have more than 30 patients at one time, people who receive prescriptions for Suboxone have more freedom to continue working, going to school, and spending time with their family and friends, because they do not have to report to a clinic once or twice per day.
How Long Does Suboxone Stay in the Body?
The two parts of Suboxone – buprenorphine and naloxone – metabolize very differently in the body. Naloxone has a very short half-life, between 30 and 60 minutes. Naloxone by itself is often used to treat opioid overdoses. It does stop this emergency medical situation, but only for a short time. Once naloxone has metabolized out of the body, the opioids remaining in the brain will bind to opioid receptors and overdose symptoms can begin again.
Buprenorphine, on the other hand, has a very long half-life, and metabolites of this drug can remain in the body for up to five weeks. This medication works as part of opioid addiction treatment because it is a partial opioid agonist, binding to the same receptors in the brain, reducing pain, easing anxiety and cravings, and generally reducing symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Buprenorphine’s half-life is 37 hours, meaning that withdrawing from Suboxone can take up to nine days total. After two days, the body will have metabolized only 50 percent of buprenorphine, but the naloxone from Suboxone will be gone. Withdrawing from other opioid drugs without medical tapering, in comparison, takes up to one week.
Can Suboxone Be Abused?
As Suboxone has become more popular, there have been reported instances of abuse of and addiction to this medication. Buprenorphine can create a slightly dulled high, and if a person can bypass the naloxone in Suboxone, the person might be able to take enough of the drug to get a high similar to low doses of heroin, morphine, or hydrocodone. When a person needs to overcome an addiction to Suboxone, withdrawal can take longer because buprenorphine remains in the body for longer than other opioids. While the worst of the withdrawal symptoms last for a week, withdrawal can still affect the person for 2-5 weeks.
If a person has been abusing Suboxone, professional help is needed, particularly since Suboxone is already used as an opiate treatment medication, indicating that the person has a history with substance abuse.