What Is the Difference Between Buprenorphine, Subutex and Naloxone?

Suboxone and Subutex are two drugs approved for the treatment of opioid addiction. Suboxone contains two main ingredients called buprenorphine and naloxone. Understanding how these medications work can be confusing; however, detailed knowledge on each drug will help you understand why you or your loved one is taking medication to help treat an addiction.

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is compound derived from thebaine, an ingredient in opium that is chemically similar to morphine and codeine. Buprenorphine is a pain reliever that is 30 to 50 times stronger than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Buprenorphine acts on the same neurological receptors as other opiates. However, the effect of buprenorphine is much less potent and causes fewer dangerous side effects. Specifically, buprenorphine causes much less respiratory depression when compared to other opiates like heroin, and is therefore less dangerous in cases of overdose.

Buprenorphine is most commonly used as a treatment option in cases of narcotic (opiod) addiction. While under medical supervision, the recovering addict is prescribed buprenorphine to help rein in any drug cravings.

Subutex

Subutex is a drug formulation that has buprenorphine as its active ingredient. Most commonly, Subutex is given in the beginning stages of addiction treatment. Your doctor may start you off on a small dose of Subutex and gradually increase the dose over the next few doses. The idea is to find the smallest possible dose of Subutex that helps control the addiction.

Subutex is only recommended for the first few days of treatment. This limitation is in place because Subutex (and buprenorphine) is a potentially addictive drug. If used for a long period of time, there is a high likelihood that the patient will replace the initial addiction with an addiction to Subutex. This is the main reason why Subutex use should be carefully monitored. If the doctor believes that the patient is developing an addiction to the drug, the patient will be switched to Suboxone, a medication that contains both buprenorphine and naloxone.

Naloxone

Naloxone is a synthetic drug that acts as an opioid antagonist. This means that naloxone blocks the effects of any drugs derived from opium, such as morphine, heroin and codeine. If given alone to an opioid addict, naloxone will block the effect of the drug and cause the addict to slip into withdrawal.

Normally, Suboxone is administered sublingually, which means that the drug is placed under the tongue. When taken in this manner, the naloxone does not inhibit the effect of buprenorphine. However, if Suboxone is injected – the method most often used to abuse opiates – naloxone will inhibit the effect of buprenorphine and cause symptoms of withdrawal. Furthermore, if Suboxone is taken in high doses, even sublingually, the effect of naloxone will overpower the effect of buprenorphine and once again cause withdrawal.

By causing withdrawal, naloxone forces the addict to equate drug use with very negative withdrawal effects. Psychologically, the addict will link drug use to these harmful effects and not want to abuse the drug. The use of naloxone in the treatment of drug addiction helps prevent the abuse of the medical opiate (e.g., buprenorphine) and helps in the overall rehabilitation process.