What Is Subutex?

What Is Subutex?


Subutex is a brand name formulation of a drug used in opiate replacement therapies and, more recently, to manage chronic pain. Along with the related drug Suboxone, the medication contains the semi-synthetic opioid buprenorphine, which is derived from the narcotic alkaloid thebaine. Unlike oxycodone, which is also made from thebaine, buprenorphine has muted euphoric effects that provide lasting opioid relief without the narcotic high. When treating heroin, morphine and painkiller addicts, treatment centers might use buprenorphine drugs as a substitute opioid to transition patients more gradually toward sobriety. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that Subutex is typically employed during the initial stage of treatment and detoxification, while Suboxone – which adds an opioid antagonist to block the effects of any narcotics – is used during the maintenance phase.

Despite the medicinal intent of Subutex, buprenorphine drugs are dangerous for several reasons, including the following:

  • The long half-life (36 hours on average) increases the risk of overdose and interactions
  • Subutex tablets can be crushed and then snorted or injected to achieve a narcotic high
  • Buprenorphine is still an opioid with the potential for addiction and health risks

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website provides findings that further demonstrate the dangers and concerns. The data includes the following:

  • 52% of the buprenorphine-related emergency room visits involved nonmedical use
  • 24% of the emergencies involved attempts at detoxification without professional help
  • The number of buprenorphine-related emergencies increased tenfold from 2005 to 2010

The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) reported in 2012 that one-third of treatment applicants saw buprenorphine sold on the street and one-fifth said the drug is used to get high. Moreover, high rates of accidental pediatric exposure led the Subutex/Suboxone manufacturer, Reckitt Benckiser, to discontinue the tablet form in 2013 and replace it with a film version that goes under the tongue. This move led to a spike in counterfeit tablets, which often contain dangerous elements. For example, a study of counterfeit buprenorphine published in the Forensic Science International journal in 2007 found heroin, an antihistamine and an impurity of illicitly made heroin in the counterfeit product but no buprenorphine.

Subutex Abuse Symptoms

As with all buprenorphine medications, signs of an overdose include shallow breathing, confusion, jaundice, upper stomach pain and fainting, while signs of a severe allergic reaction include rash, itching and swelling. If any of these symptoms occur, contact a medical facility immediately. Otherwise, more common side effects include the following:

  • Headaches, back pain and stomach discomfort
  • Runny nose, nausea, vomiting and constipation
  • Excessive sweating, chills and sleep problems
  • Mood issues like depression and anxiety

If a loved one shows signs of abuse or serious side effects, encourage him to get help, and stage an intervention if necessary. Treatment centers can provide intervention resources and recommend professional interventionists if needed.

Whether a person is addicted to opiate-replacement medication like Subutex or illicit opioids like heroin, professional treatment offers the most effective path to addiction recovery. Rehabilitation centers provide a number of potential services, including the following:

  • Medically monitored detoxification supervised by consulting physicians
  • Integrated diagnosis and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Behavioral therapies that improve decision making and address maladaptive thinking
  • Motivational Interviewing to cultivate personal reasons to get clean
  • Counseling to identify and neutralize cues that trigger opioid cravings
  • Non-narcotic alternatives to treat and manage chronic pain problems

If you or a loved one is struggling with any type of opioid abuse, our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to help. We can answer questions about interventions, rehabilitation methods, facilities and addiction signs, and if you have health insurance, we can explain your policy’s treatment benefits. Please call our toll-free helpline now.

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