Getting off Heroin with Suboxone: Dangers & Benefits

Content Overview

How to make the jump from Heroin to Suboxone?

Suboxone can deliver relief from heroin cravings, and that can make addiction recovery possible, but the medication should only be used in accordance with a comprehensive treatment program. Clinicians can determine an appropriate Suboxone dose, and they can pair the use of the medication with therapy, allowing people to build up resistance to the temptation to use drugs.

Heroin is a highly addictive substance processed from morphine, which is extracted from poppy seeds.
 
There are several varieties of heroin, including pure heroin, heroin that has been cut with another substance (such as sugar, starch, etc.), and “black tar” heroin.

Pure heroin is a white powder that can be snorted or smoked, rather than injected. Black tar heroin is injected, and it is either sticky or hard, and dark in color. The color is a result of impurities left behind from processing.

Heroin is an opioid, much like legal prescription drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine. These drugs are used in the relief of pain, because they bind to opioid receptors in the brain and can increase pain tolerance, reduce the intensity of pain, and decrease the body’s reaction to pain. Once heroin enters the brain, it is converted into morphine and binds to the same opioid receptors, producing a rush for the user. After several hours, this rush becomes a feeling of drowsiness, accompanied by slower heart rate, breathing, and mental function.

What Is Suboxone, and Why Use It?

prescription medicationSuboxone is a medication used to treat opioid dependence, containing buprenorphine and naloxone. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million people suffer from opioid dependence. Buprenorphine and naloxone, formulated as Suboxone, are used to treat this dependence.

Buprenorphine is considered a “partial opioid agonist,” meaning that it produces a milder form of the effects produced by opioids (which are “full opioid agonists”). It essentially fills the brain’s opioids receptors without producing the same high as full opioids. One of the advantages of using Suboxone is that it cannot be taken to achieve a full opioid effect, making it more difficult to abuse than other forms of medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone.

Added to Suboxone is naloxone, which is an opioid antagonist.


If a Suboxone tablet is crushed and snorted, the added naloxone will block opioids from the brain’s receptors, preventing any sort of high from Suboxone. The naloxone discourages users from snorting Suboxone.


Unlike methadone, which can only be dispensed from specialized addiction clinics, Suboxone can be prescribed in a doctor’s office. Only about 10 percent of people who suffer from opioid dependence are being treated for it, according to WHO. Suboxone increases treatment options for those who may not have accessibility to many options.

Suboxone has been shown to be an effective treatment option. When individuals in a study conducted by Richard D. Blondell, MD, and colleagues were enrolled in either an opioid discontinuation program or an opioid replacement program, use of buprenorphine in the replacement program predicted better adherence to the treatment protocol.

Overall, the benefits of Suboxone are:

  • Lower potential for abuse
  • Greater accessibility
  • High success rate in the treatment of opiate dependence

What Are the Dangers of Using Suboxone?

While Suboxone is an excellent resource for those seeking recovery from opiate addiction, like all medications, it has its disadvantages. Aside from possible side effects, Suboxone is typically a drug that users take for a long time to maintain recovery. As a partial opioid agonist, it still allows some opioid dependence in users. As a result, when users aim to get off Suboxone, they should taper their dosage under medical supervision.

Like other medication-assisted treatments, Suboxone does not “cure” addiction.


It should only be used in accordance with a comprehensive treatment program. The drug can produce dependence in users, so it’s important that all taking the medication remain under professional medical supervision.


However, Suboxone is less likely to produce the same addictive behavior as full opioid agonists because it has a slower onset than full opioids and a milder effect. In early treatment, where Subutex is usually prescribed instead of Suboxone, users can potentially increase the high from buprenorphine by injecting or crushing the Subutex, causing a faster onset of the opioid reaction and more of a pleasurable reaction. Suboxone, with the naloxone added, does not have this potential. While addiction can be a danger with this medication, it is a low-risk danger.

Jumping from Heroin to Suboxone

Again, Suboxone is a medication that will relieve symptoms of opioid withdrawal by filling the opioid receptors in the brain partially. As such, it can help users of heroin transition into treatment more effectively by preventing them from having the painful withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin. The drug typically prescribed during this time is Subutex, which is then transitioned to Suboxone. The only difference between these two medications is the presence of naloxone, which is used to discourage abuse of the medication.
Should users attempt to take other opioids while taking Suboxone, these opioids will be blocked from the brain’s receptors by Suboxone, preventing the normal high that comes from these drugs. This can assist in undoing the positive reinforcement loop that previously caused the addiction, because users will no longer receive the same reward for opioid use. They will also not experience the withdrawal from stopping opiate use, making it easier to stick to a treatment program.

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