Most addiction experts will agree that detox is the most challenging aspect of overcoming substance abuse as it ushers in a wave of severe withdrawal symptoms that can lead to relapse. Fortunately, prescription-based medication can help ease these symptoms and increase an individual’s chances of achieving long-term sobriety. One of the most trusted and commonly prescribed medications used during detox is Suboxone, which contains both buprenorphine and naloxone. In a study published in the National Institute of Health, 49 percent of study participants who took Suboxone for 12 weeks were able to reduce their dependence on opioids and other pain relievers.
It is also worth noting that Suboxone, as a treatment for opioid addiction, has been on the rise since 2004. According to SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), the number of prescriptions written for the medication climbed from 727 in 2004 to a staggering 7,020 in 2011 and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. So while there is no denying that Suboxone is effective, there is some debate when it comes to how long an individual should continue taking the medication after completing detox.
Classified as a Schedule III partial opioid, Suboxone is a medication formulated to relieve cravings and minimize the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with abrupt drug or alcohol cessation. Although Suboxone attaches to the same opioid receptors in the brain as other opioids, the impact is markedly different. As a partial agonist, Suboxone prevents full opioids from attaching to opioid receptors in the brain.
That said, the risk of developing a tolerance for Suboxone is much lower than that of prescription or street-level opioids since it takes longer to be broken down in the body. To further put this into context, Suboxone is stored in the liver and other tissues when an individual consumes it, which, in turn, provides an extended-release of the medication that enables them to function without feeling impaired.
Now that we have a better understanding of how Suboxone works, let’s take a look at how it can benefit those who have already undergone detox. Suboxone maintenance can prevent the spread of disease, familial and social dysfunction, crime, and a host of other negative effects caused by opioid abuse, according to several studies. Also, long-term opioid agonist maintenance that involves the use of Suboxone is effective in preventing relapse. All in all, Suboxone maintenance following detox represents a win-win for both the individual addicted to opioids and society as a whole.
When it comes to Suboxone for long-term opioid agonist maintenance, most physicians will prescribe a 30-day supply of the medication at a time. They will also monitor the effects that the prescribed dose is having on the patient and make sure that they are taking the medication as directed. Initially, most individuals will start on a low dose of Suboxone, typically less than 8 mg per day. If an individual is responding favorably, most physicians will increase the dose to 12 to 16 mg per day.
This higher dose will remain consistent until the patient no longer needs to continue Suboxone maintenance treatments for their opioid addiction. This time frame can vary from one person to the next. Therefore, physicians will routinely evaluate how patients are progressing on the medication before deciding on when they should be weaned off. Of course, we do have to keep in mind that, while effective, Suboxone is a partial opioid. And as with any opioid, there is a risk for addiction and severe side effects if an individual does not follow their physician’s recommendations for coming off of the medication.
Some of the symptoms associated with not being properly weaned off of Suboxone include