The Dangers Of Long-Term Suboxone Use

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The profile of man and in his head lot of pills. Headache treatment.

Suboxone is a prescription drug that physicians typically prescribe those who struggle with an opioid addiction and want to stop. Whether it’s heroin, fentanyl, OxyContin, morphine, or another opioid, Suboxone is what is considered a “maintenance drug” that can help ease opioid withdrawal symptoms.

The ingredients that make up Suboxone are naloxone, which is an opiate blocker, and buprenorphine, a semi-synthetic opioid. The drug first became available in 2003, approved by the FDA to treat those addicted to opioids. Not only is it potentially fatal, but it can ruin your job chances as it is likely to show up on a drug test.

Is Suboxone Addictive?

Suboxone can keep the harsh opioid detox symptoms at bay, but is it addictive?

When it’s taken as directed, the likelihood of becoming addicted to Suboxone is low. However, it is an addictive drug, so the potential to become dependent on or addicted to is there, especially if a person abuses it. 

How Suboxone Works

The buprenorphine in Suboxone attaches to brain receptors, only slightly activating them. This helps the patient feel less uncomfortable withdrawal effects from detoxing from the more harmful opioid. 

Naloxone is the ingredient in Suboxone that blocks the feelings of intense euphoria should the patient use opioids. Because naloxone has the blocking action, the patient is not likely to become dependent or addicted to the drug.

Uninformed Doctors

There are some uninformed doctors out there that will prescribe Suboxone but fail to educate patients about the drug and further recovery efforts.  Suboxone is not a magical cure for opioid addiction. Experts state that oftentimes patients need to combine maintenance therapy with emotional and psychological help too.  

In other words, Suboxone shouldn’t be a long-term plan for everyone.  It’s beneficial for those in the early stages of opioid withdrawal, but used long-term can cause health problems. And, many patients report that trying to get off Suboxone after years of being on it can be harder than getting off whatever harsher opioid they were initially using. 

Withdrawal symptoms from Suboxone include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Joint pain
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Nausea

Harm Reduction Treatment

Opioid overdose deaths are at an all-time high.  Many physicians are prescribing medications like Suboxone as “harm reduction treatment”.  Essentially, the thought is that it’s better to have someone addicted to a lesser harmful drug like Suboxone than a more dangerous drug like heroin or pain pills.  After all, much of the opioid overdose deaths come from those abusing the latter drugs. 

But is harm-reduction treatment really the best long-term solution? Or is it just putting a Band-Aid on the addiction issues? Are doctors overlooking the reality that patients may want to get free from ALL addiction?  And that there are comprehensive addiction treatments that can help them overcome it?

Granted, some physicians or clinics may be keen on using Suboxone treatment long-term because it’s a money maker for them.  They understand they can continue to get paychecks for months or years. These are the ones that aren’t requiring the patient to add other types of treatment to the Suboxone, like psychotherapy. They’re also not following up.

 Hopefully, there are less and less doctors doing this.

Dangers Of Long-Term Suboxone Use

Using Suboxone to get off the more harmful opioid is wonderful. However, using Suboxone long-term can cause negative health effects that range from mild to severe.  

Dangers of long-term Suboxone use include:

Overdose – When Suboxone is taken as directed, the chance of experiencing overdose is low. However, for those that abuse the drug, such as injecting it or those that don’t have a high tolerance, the risk increases, even though naloxone is present.

Suboxone overdose symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Slower breathing
  • Decrease in heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Losing balance, slurring words
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Those that combine other drugs with Suboxone, such as benzodiazepines or alcohol are at a greater risk of overdosing. 

Hepatitis –Some patients recovering from opioid addiction using Suboxone long-term have a higher chance at getting hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver.  Symptoms of hepatitis include jaundice, nausea, darker urine, and a decreased interest in eating.

Serotonin Syndrome – Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical in the brain.  Serotonin syndrome occurs when the body has too much serotonin being produced.  Symptoms include dilated pupils, confusion, nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, sweating, diarrhea, or tremors. Typically, this occurs when a person is taking various medications, with Suboxone being one of them. 

Financial Problems – Using Suboxone long-term can put a dent in the pocketbook, especially if you don’t have insurance. 

Interactions With Other Drugs – Over time, the patient may require additional medications to contend with a mental health disorder or they may choose to abuse alcohol or another drug.

Mixing Suboxone and other drugs like benzodiazepines can be dangerous. Drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium have been known to enhance the effects of other drugs.  This goes for using alcohol too. Combining two or three of these drugs can cause serious harm that can cause hospitalization. 

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Not every treatment center agrees with harm-reduction treatment. Not that it’s bad, but there are effective, comprehensive opioid addiction treatments available that can help patients stop opioid addiction within weeks or months, rather than years. While Suboxone can be helpful in minimizing initial detox symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily need to be used long-term. 

If you’re struggling with opioid addiction or you’ve been using Suboxone long-term and would like to get off of it, reach out for professional help. There are comprehensive treatment programs designed to treat the addiction, as well as any underlying issues that may be going on. 

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