The war on drugs is fought on many fronts. Law enforcement professionals play a role, for example, as they work to shut down large conglomerates that hope to bring drugs into this country. Hospital administrators might also battle against drugs, as they provide medications and other therapies that could help addicted people to recover. Even neighborhoods might be engaged in the fighting, as neighbors might push their addicted brethren into treatment programs that can help.
This sort of fighting can help to reduce the devastating impact that drugs can have on individuals and on the people who love them. But sometimes, people get wrapped up in a form of friendly fire, as the medications that should be used to treat an addiction tend to spur a secondary use and abuse problem. The prescription medication Suboxone is often responsible for these problems, and learning more about the issue might help some families to understand how to fight back and take control.
Suboxone contains two separate medications: buprenorphine and naloxone. One of these medications, buprenorphine, works in much the same way as heroin or prescription painkillers. When it enters the bloodstream, it attaches to the same receptors used by heroin or painkillers, and it produces a mild sensation of euphoria. Buprenorphine stays attached to these receptors for up to 24 hours, so if the user takes in another drug such as heroin, the drug has nothing to attach to, and it will cause no effect.
When given alone, buprenorphine can be abused. According to a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, more than 75 percent of addicts reported that they had injected the drug. At high doses, the drug can cause a high. This is why the second medication was included in the Suboxone formula.
Naloxone works a bit like a bouncer at a bar. If a user takes in naloxone, it bumps all medications from their receptors, and the user goes into withdrawal. A study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests that including naloxone in each Suboxone pill would make the drug impervious to abuse, as the blocking action of naloxone would keep the user from feeling pleasure. The design is meant to be protective.
Who Is It For?
Suboxone was designed to help people who abuse prescription painkillers or opiates like heroin overcome the withdrawal process. When these addicts attempt to get sober, they experience:
- Involuntary twitching of the legs
- Cold sweats
Sometimes, users feel variants of these symptoms for months after they stop drug use, and they may relapse in order to make the symptoms stop. Medications like Suboxone can help, as they attach to the same receptors and bring about the same type of changes. The user won’t feel sick, and as a result, the user might be more willing to participate in therapies that could help them to stay sober in the future.
How Is Suboxone Different?
The idea of using medications to help opiate addicts to recover isn’t new. In fact, some facilities have used replacement medications for decades in the hopes of helping clients to learn how to change their lives for the better. However, in the past, these medications were only distributed in liquid form in clinics, so the addicts had to keep appointments to receive their drugs, and these appointments were often considered stigmatizing. In addition, some addicts managed to sell their medications or hoard their doses so they could abuse them.
This all changed in 2002, with the introduction of Suboxone. This medication comes in a pill form, so doctors could prescribe the medication and allow the addict to take the drug at home. Addicts could then work, live at home and otherwise go on with normal life, all while taking medications for addiction in a private manner.
Pros and Cons
Using Suboxone can, at times, make the withdrawal process a little easier to complete, and sometimes, the medication helps addicted people to avoid a relapse to the addictive drugs they once took. For example, in a study in The American Journal on Addictions, researchers found that those who didn’t take their replacement medications were 10 times more likely to relapse when compared to people who took their buprenorphine medications on time, each time. Studies like this seem to suggest that some people do stave off a relapse with the help of medications.
However, Suboxone isn’t right for everyone. The elements inside each pill have the potential to cause a spike in chemicals associated with pleasure, and sometimes, people report feeling a high from the buprenorphine pills they are taking in order to fight a drug use problem. This feeling of pleasure can even be augmented, if people get creative about the methods they use in order to take their pills.
According to a 2004 bulletin from the National Drug Intelligence Center, users are crushing and snorting Suboxone on occasion, and when they do so, they are successfully achieving a high. Even though the naloxone in each pill is designed to make such sensations impossible to achieve, some users are finding a way to make it work. This could be the true tragedy of Suboxone abuse, as some people may enter a treatment program with one kind of addiction and emerge with another addiction as a replacement.
Some people are so leery of the addictive potential of Suboxone that they refuse to take the medication during detox. Thankfully, there are other options available that can soothe discomfort as the body adjusts. Over-the-counter nausea medications and pain relievers can sometimes soothe mild cases of discomfort, while bland foods, warm beds and soothing massages might all help the mental discomfort to fade away. Detoxing like this might not be completely pain-free, but for some people, it is the better option.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration suggests that 9.3 million prescriptions for buprenorphine were filled in the United States in 2012. Statistics like this suggest that medications like Suboxone are just readily available, and it might be all too easy for curious people to seek out the drug as a reasonable substitute for heroin or prescription painkillers. The drug might seem safe, since it comes from a doctor, and it might also be cheap to purchase.
People with no opiate or opioid drug experience might have an overwhelming response to the medication in each Suboxone pill, since their brain cells have never encountered the rush of pleasure simple drugs can bring. In no time at all, they might become addicted to the sensations a pill delivers, and they may develop an addiction to this drug that was never designed for recreational use.
People who are addicted to Suboxone are in deep trouble, as the drug has a ceiling effect. People who are addicted tend to take larger and larger doses of their drugs, in order to ensure the same rush of pleasure they felt with the very first dose. But Suboxone won’t work at high levels. In time, addicted people simply won’t feel a rush they want, and they might be forced to revert to drugs like heroin or Vicodin to bring about the intense sensations they crave. In a sense, they’re developing an addiction in reverse, using Suboxone as an introduction to heavier drugs.It’s hard to know how many people are following this path, as the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) suggests that buprenorphine products aren’t included in standard drug screening tests. Since the drugs are so widely available, however, it’s safe to assume that many people are struggling with this form of addiction on a daily basis.
Many people truly need to take Suboxone in order to get through their addiction programs, and it can be difficult to determine whether or not these people are abusing their medications or simply taking their medications in the way their doctors intended. In general, people who take the medication properly shouldn’t seem sedated or slow as a result of their use. People who display slurred speech or slowed breathing after taking Suboxone might be abusing the drug. A call to the person’s therapist might be in order if these symptoms occur.
People who have no prescription for Suboxone and who are abusing the drug might display sedation and slurred speech. They might also display these side effects of Suboxone, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- Mood swings
The addict might also withdraw from family activities, miss school or work, and become protective of his or her privacy. These are clear-cut signs of addiction and can be considered a cry for help.
Rehab for Suboxone Abuse
No matter whether the addiction began with hard drugs like heroin, or the path to addiction began with the recreational use of Suboxone, therapy is the key to a happy and healthy life that’s free of addiction. In a comprehensive treatment program, people can learn more about why they chose to use drugs, and what decisions they’ll need to make in the future in order to keep the problem from coming back.
At Alta Mira, we work with clients to create an individualized treatment plan that is medically responsible. We are happy to talk with you about our services to ensure that we’re the right place for your care. Please contact us if you’d like to find out about the Alta Mira recovery process.