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Suboxone Abuse

Providing Trusted, Evidence-Based
Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

People with addictions simply cannot control their actions concerning their drugs of choice. If the substance is available, they’ll take it. If the substance isn’t available, they’ll find it or resort to a substitute. The drug controls almost every decision these people make, and in time, they may feel as though they simply cannot live unless they have access to some kind of drug. Not surprisingly, some people with a history of addictive behavior choose to abuse the substances that are designed to help them. People with opiate addictions, for example, might choose to abuse Suboxone, even though their doctors might prescribe this drug in order to help them overcome their troubles with opiate addiction.

The Role of Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine usage

Not all people with opiate addictions rely on medications as they heal. However, there are many people who simply cannot heal from an opiate addiction without the boost that a prescription medication provides. When left without help, these people feel deep cravings for drugs that distract and torment them, and they’re prone to relapsing to drug abuse. With medications, they might feel more capable of handling the demands of therapy, so they can build up skills they can use in order to stay sober. In the early part of the healing process, these people might lean on buprenorphine. This medication works on the same receptors used by opiates like heroin, but it provides a slightly different type of sensation.

People who take opiates often feel a rush of pleasure as soon as the drug takes hold, and they may feel awash in comfort and euphoria for hours. If these same people take buprenorphine, they might feel a tiny boost of happiness, but they might not feel overwhelmed by the sensation. Taking more of the drug won’t help, either, as it tends to top out at a specific level. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, buprenorphine seems to have a ceiling at which it simply doesn’t work anymore. Taking higher doses isn’t likely to make the person feel any more pleasure.

Adding in Protection

Unfortunately, some users have found that they can make buprenorphine pleasurable.

These users might thwart the recommendations of their doctors by:

  • Chewing the tablets and swallowing the paste
  • Crushing the tablets and snorting the powder
  • Crushing the tablets, adding liquid and injecting the resulting fluid with needles
  • Crushing the tablets and rubbing the paste on their gums

Some of these methods strip buprenorphine from ingredients that allow for a slow release over time. These steps can allow a user to feel the full impact of the drugs all at once, and this could be pleasurable. Other steps allow a user to bypass the digestive system, using more absorbent tissues that dump chemicals into the bloodstream just a little faster.

In the early days of treatment, these steps are hard for addicts to take, as they’re under the watchful supervision of medical professionals or loving family members. But in later days, when the supervision is lax, these people might be tempted to stray. That’s why medical professionals shift them to Suboxone. This prescription medication combines buprenorphine with Naloxone, an agonist that prevents high doses of buprenorphine from taking hold.

In theory, Suboxone should be abuse-proof. The naloxone ingredient works to boot existing molecules of buprenorphine from their receptors, and it blocks new molecules from taking hold. Since each Suboxone pill has this blocking power, people who take high doses should feel nothing at all. Unfortunately, some people do try to break through the limits of this drug.

Poor Choices

In a study in the journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy, researchers found that Suboxone was abused via needle in four patients. One patient abused the drug twice, using a needle both times. This study included 64 people, so few people chose to tinker with their drug dose, but those who did reported that injecting the medication brought about either no feelings at all or the feelings it did bring about were negative. It’s possible that these people never abused the drug in the future, since they didn’t enjoy the experience when they tried it the first time.

In a similar study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers found that 68 percent of IV drug users had tried to abuse Suboxone, and among them, 80 percent said they had an experience they would consider negative. As a result, the street price for Naloxone in this particular community stood at half of the price of a buprenorphine medication. It just wasn’t considered valuable for their purposes.

Not surprisingly, abuse rates attributed to Suboxone are low when they’re compared to those seen in people who prefer buprenorphine without an additive. But there are people who choose to abuse this drug. For example, in a study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, of 77 cases of drug abuse attributed to buprenorphine products between 2003 and 2005, 92.2 percent involved Suboxone. It’s clear that some people are choosing to abuse this drug, even though it may not be an efficient product for this purpose.

Vulnerable Populations

Some people who abuse Suboxone have no other choice about what drug they take. For example, prison officials in Vermont told reporters at the Burlington Free Press that Suboxone was a popular drug of abuse among their incarcerated population, and often, these people got the drugs they wanted in letters that came from home. These people weren’t buying drugs and they didn’t likely have many options about what drugs they could take. Instead, they just took the substances sent to them in the mail, and it seemed as though Suboxone was a substance their families could easily find and send to them. Similarly, people with significant addiction histories may live in very restricted households with family members who are quite savvy about the use and abuse of drugs. These people may not be able to buy drugs and bring them into the home without raising suspicion, but they might easily sneak in a few more Suboxone pills without anyone being the wiser. If it’s a drug they have access to, it would be easy for them to abuse the substance.

It’s also possible that people with addicted family members find it easy to use and abuse Suboxone. It’s a drug that addicted people can take home with them and use without the direct supervision of a doctor, and it’s all too easy for family members to steal a few extra pills here and there, nibbling away at the stash one pill at a time. The mild euphoria associated with Suboxone might not seem intense to people with opiate addictions, but it could be transformative to people who have never taken opiates at all. They might quickly become addicted as a result.

Signs of a Problem

People who have a valid prescription for Suboxone might need to take their pills in order to avoid symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Therefore, they might take the pills multiple times in an average day.

But if they are abusing the drug, they might also:

  • Emerge from the bathroom with white powder around the nostrils
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts to cover up needle pinpricks
  • Seem sleepy or dopey
  • Run out of pills much too quickly

People who don’t have a prescription may resort to stealing pills, or they may borrow money or sell possessions in order to buy the drugs they crave. Their conversation may be dotted with references to the drug, and they may even be caught reading up on addiction and withdrawal symptoms, so they can obtain prescriptions for a drug they don’t really need.

What to Do

Leaving an addiction in place can be tragic. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that people who take in very high doses of buprenorphine can develop very slow breathing rates, especially if people mix the drug with alcohol, and deaths have been attributed to this drug as a result. People with a prescription who are abusing the drug might also be tempted to lapse back into opiate abuse, and that can be deadly as well. Suboxone contains blocking agents, but those ingredients do wear off in time. Someone who adds heroin into the mix may take a lethal dose of that drug without realizing it, because the Suboxone blocks the person’s ability to feel the power of heroin. When the Suboxone wears off, that person might be hit with an overdose.

Since the abuse issue can be so deadly, it’s vital for family members to take action. They can discuss the issue with the person they love, urging the person to get care and promising to be available as treatment progresses. Family members can also talk to the person’s doctor, ensuring that the medical professional knows about the abuse and is willing to work with the family to ensure that treatment for addiction begins.

At Michael’s House, we know that confronting someone with an addiction isn’t easy, especially if that person has a long history of using and abusing drugs. Families might be loath to admit that the behaviors they thought were in the past are still in play, and it’s common for addicts to feel both betrayed and angry. <href=””>We work hard to help families to understand that addictions can be chronic and relapsing, and without proper treatment, some people shift addictions from one substance to another. <That’s why our programs focus so intensely on therapy and follow-up care. This is the kind of care that can help people to make lasting changes and sustain them no matter what comes in the future. If you’d like to find out more, please call us.