Suboxone® is one of the most effective methods for treating opioid addiction. When used appropriately under professional supervision, Suboxone can reduce cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and minimize the risk of relapse and overdose. Pain relief is another benefit of Suboxone. This is thanks to the fact that Suboxone contains buprenorphine, which has a pain-relieving effect.
While this can make Suboxone useful for people dealing with pain—for example, during post-surgical recovery or due to a chronic pain disorder—it has been advised against for patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) in the past.
It’s important to know that this guidance is outdated. Below, we explain the intricacies of Suboxone for pain management and reveal alternative pain management options for patients with OUD.
How does buprenorphine relieve pain?
Buprenorphine was first discovered in 1966 and, after years of testing, approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of OUD in 2002. However, specific formulations—Beltrans® and Belbuca®— were approved for pain management in 1984.
Buprenorphine is very effective at alleviating pain. The medicine works by blocking pain signals from the brain to the body. It's usually prescribed to patients dealing with long-term pain after less potent formulas have ceased working, such as individuals living with cancer. It's also prescribed for patients recovering from serious injuries or operations and for those dealing with cancer-related pain.
Suboxone for pain management
Buprenorphine is one of the main ingredients in Suboxone. In this context, it activates opioid receptors to minimize withdrawal symptoms and combat cravings. The other component in Suboxone, a combination medicine, is naloxone, which blocks the effect of opioids.
When prescribed as a medication for addiction treatment (MAT) for OUD patients, Suboxone can help reduce the discomfort associated with opioid withdrawal. Common withdrawal symptoms include sweating, muscle cramps, chills, anxiety, nausea, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting.
So, does Suboxone itself help with pain? Although Suboxone is approved for the treatment of OUD, it is not specifically intended for pain relief—even though this may be a side effect, thanks to the buprenorphine it contains. The same is true for other medications used to treat OUD, such as Belbuca (commonly sold under the name Subutex®) or Butrans.
New developments in post-surgical care for OUD patients
While OUD patients may be prescribed Suboxone as part of a MAT program, the medicine is not FDA-approved for treating pain specifically. This means that OUD patients and their healthcare providers must explore alternative avenues for pain relief when it comes to situations like post-surgical care.
Unfortunately, some conventional methods of pain relief, like prescribing opioids, are problematic for those with an OUD. Research suggests that postoperative opioid misuse in patients with OUD may increase the likelihood of relapse.
A comprehensive care plan could include:
- Non-opioid analgesic solutions, like NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, or diclofenac)
- Regional anesthetics, like peripheral nerve blocks
- Other agents, like acetaminophen and lidocaine.
These medicinal approaches can be supplemented with nonpharmacologic interventions, including acupuncture, hypnosis, yoga, biofeedback, and hot or cold therapies. Such approaches can be effective. For example, a systematic review of 85 trials suggests that hypnosis can be helpful in pain management, while there is significant data showing the utility of acupuncture in treating pain.
Suboxone for OUD patients
While Suboxone is not approved by the FDA for pain management, it is widely considered safe and effective for treating OUD patients. Suboxone's ability to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and minimize the risk of overdose has made it a popular option in MAT programs.
Ophelia makes MAT available online, reaching people in rural areas who may otherwise have difficulty gaining access to such programs. If you're approved for Ophelia, you can get your Suboxone prescription sent to your local pharmacy (safety information). You'll then be assigned an online care team to oversee your treatment going forward.