There is no question that the abuse of heroin and other prescription opioids has turned into a major public health problem that has resulted in millions of people becoming addicted to a substance, as well as tens of thousands of individuals dying every year. Tragically, this problem seems to be getting worse.
Thankfully, science and treatment have evolved to the point that many different types of treatment are now available to help people overcome their addictions. Unfortunately, in many cases, that treatment can be misdirected and abused. Such is the case for Suboxone, a type of medication-assisted treatment that can be used to help people who are addicted to opioids. While Suboxone can unquestionably be a valuable tool in the fight against addiction, there is also ample evidence to indicate that it can be abused in and of itself.
What Is Suboxone, and How Is It Used?
Suboxone is a type of medication that is used for addiction treatment. Specifically, it is used to combat opioid use disorder, meaning that it can be used to fight addiction to heroin and to certain types of prescription drugs.
Suboxone is the brand name for this type of medication, and it actually contains two drugs called buprenorphine and naloxone. Suboxone is typically available in four different dosages and comes as a film that can be taken sublingually. This administration allows for the drug to begin working right away.
Since Suboxone is a combination of two drugs, it is important to recognize that each of these drugs works in different ways. The buprenorphine part of the drug works like an opioid, but it is weaker than drugs like heroin or prescription-strength opioids. It allows for someone to satisfy an opioid craving without the same high, thus making it easier to taper off opioid use while also reducing withdrawal symptoms. Naloxone works by blocking the effects of opioids in general, thus making someone who uses opioids not feel the typical positive or pleasurable feelings.
The good news about Suboxone is that it works. Numerous studies have shown that it can be extremely effective at reducing cravings and providing treatment. Indeed, the use of Suboxone, in conjunction with counseling and other forms of therapy, is widely regarded as the “gold standard” for addiction treatment by the federal government and other addiction professionals.
Like any medication, Suboxone comes with potential side effects. Many of these are mild or moderate and include:
- Feelings of opioid withdrawal, such as aches, cramps, pain, or an increased heart rate. However, these feelings are less than what they would have been if someone attempted to quit opioids cold turkey
- A variety of other physical pains, including headaches, insomnia, stomach upset, or fatigue
- Emotional discomfort, such as anxiety or depression
These side effects are typically relatively tolerable, but they can be uncomfortable. However, more serious side effects are also possible. These include:
- Severe allergic reactions
- Breathing problems
- Liver damage
- Hormonal difficulty
How Can Suboxone Be Abused or Misdirected?
The dangers of Suboxone have been recognized by the federal government. It is a Class III drug. This means that it has medical use and can be prescribed by professionals, but it also has the potential for abuse. These qualities help to explain why Suboxone can only be prescribed by professionals who have specified certification and training.
Unfortunately, Suboxone abuse and misdirection are still very possible. Since Suboxone is viewed as a “step-down” therapy, it can still result in someone feeling the same sensations, albeit at a lower intensity, than he or she would when high on opioids. If someone is addicted enough, he or she may take extensive levels of Suboxone in order to feel the same sensations that would have occurred while high on opioids.
Suboxone is a prescription drug that is highly controlled. This means that, in theory, it should be difficult for individuals to get their hands on Suboxone and abuse it. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Indeed, there are frequent cases of bad doctors or clinics inappropriately prescribing Suboxone. These “pill mills” will allow the drug to be prescribed, despite the fact that it may not be warranted or that the individual in question may be using the drug inappropriately or unsupervised.
Partially, as a result of these so-called pill mills, there are many people within the treatment world who have become uncomfortable with the use of Suboxone as a medication. There are also constant calls for enhanced regulation of the drug and its prescribers. While these regulations are necessary, they can also have an unintended side effect: The new rules may make it more difficult for patients who would benefit from the drug to obtain it.
How Can You Tell If Someone Is Addicted to Suboxone?
The biggest sign that someone has a problem with Suboxone is clear: He or she is using it outside of the guidelines established by a medical professional. Suboxone is a potentially dangerous drug that can come with serious side effects. It is also possible to overdose on Suboxone. These concerns are why the drug must be used under the strict supervision of a trained medical professional, and it is also why it is best used in conjunction with professional counseling.
Unfortunately, in many cases, an individual will receive a prescription for Suboxone only to turn around and sell the drug on the street. This is why it is so important that individuals who prescribe Suboxone properly monitor their clients and do whatever they can to ensure that an individual is properly using the drug.
Keep in mind that the medication should be used in an as-directed manner. There are four levels of strengths when it comes to Suboxone prescriptions, and using the drug outside of the boundaries established by a trained medical professional may mean that someone has a problem. It should only be used as directed.
Furthermore, the evidence is clear: Suboxone must not be used with any other illicit drugs. This includes alcohol or other opioids. Doing so increases the odds of a serious negative reaction or overdose. It also is likely to indicate that someone is still struggling with addiction.
There are a variety of symptoms that someone can show when he or she is addicted to Suboxone. Many of these are very similar to the symptoms that a person will experience while high on or addicted to opioids. Signs include:
- Physical symptoms, such as fatigue, aches and pains, upset stomach, chills, and blurred vision.
- Emotional symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and an overriding desire to take Suboxone whenever possible
Someone who is addicted to a substance like Suboxone is also very likely to show a marked increase in secretive behavior. It is very possible that he or she will change social group and begin to act in a manner that is much more secretive than normal.
Can You Overdose From Suboxone?
Unfortunately, yes, a person can overdose while using Suboxone. Suboxone overdoses are possible since it acts similarly to an opioid. However, these overdoses are not possible if the drug is being used as directed by a competent medical professional. Suboxone only happens when individuals misuse the drug or obtain it illegally.
Signs of a Suboxone overdose include:
- Difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
- Disorientation or cognitive impairment
- Slowed heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
The odds of an overdose increase if Suboxone is used in conjunction with other drugs or substances, like alcohol, illegal drugs, or benzodiazepines.
Luckily, Suboxone overdoses are highly treatable. If you see someone in the middle of a Suboxone overdose, it is vital that you call medical professionals as quickly as possible because time is often of the essence in these situations.
What Are the Treatment Options for Suboxone Abuse?
Before any treatment can begin, an individual must go through a physical period of detoxification, sometimes simply called detox. This process occurs as a person purges the body of any physical remnants of the drug. During this period, it is likely that someone will experience a variety of painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These include a variety of aches and pains, chills, upset stomach, anxiety, restlessness, and more. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
That being said, there’s good news: Though uncomfortable, detox symptoms are not likely to be as intense as they would be for opioid withdrawal. Furthermore, they will likely not last as long, and there are medications available to help manage the pain of withdrawal.
Once detox has begun, an individual can begin treatment for suboxone addiction. This is likely to take the form of a variety of components, the most critical of which is talk therapy. During this period, an individual will speak with a trained medical professional about the reasons for addiction, exploring what encourages him or her to get high and what underlying traumas he or she has experienced that may have led to drugs or Suboxone. Since addiction to Suboxone is an addiction to a form of treatment, it is likely that someone may need to explore a variety of alternative methods of treatment in order to recover.
However, for a person to truly recover, talk therapy may not be enough. A variety of other forms of therapy may be utilized, including:
- Family or relationship therapy, which involves building healthier relationships and examining how some relationships may encourage someone to turn more to drugs or Suboxone abuse
- Alternative forms of therapy, such as music therapy, art therapy, yoga, or meditation that may provide excellent complements to more traditional forms of therapy
- Housing and employment support for someone who needs help to find stable housing and steady employment so that he or she is less likely to return to a life of addiction
Furthermore, an individual will have to work with professionals to make a decision about how therapy should proceed. Outpatient treatment, during which a person receives therapy but remains in his or her own home, may be possible. However, for more severe cases of addiction, inpatient treatment may be necessary. Inpatient treatment is a form of residential treatment that provides for more intensive monitoring and therapy. It is residential treatment, meaning that a person will stay at the facility for a set period of time.
The most important thing for anyone who is addicted to any substance, including Suboxone, is that he or she recognizes the addiction and seeks help immediately. Fortunately, help is available.
If you are in the New England area, you have access to the Granite Recovery Center. We offer a variety of programs that are designed to help people who suffer from substance use disorder or Suboxone addiction, including mental health treatment and drug rehabilitation centers. Don’t wait; call today at 1-855-712-7784, and let us help you get your life back on track.