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What are Subutex® side effects?

Subutex helps treat opioid dependence by activating the same receptors in the brain triggered by drugs. Find out how Subutex works—and who it's for—in this

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Despite increasing awareness of opioid addiction, it continues to affect individuals, families, and communities across the country. But there’s a reason to hope: There are medications to help individuals struggling with opioid dependence or addiction. And they work. Really well. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been shown to reduce a person's risk of overdose and death by 66 to 80% (compared to those who aren't on MAT). Subutex® is the brand name for buprenorphine, the gold standard and most commonly prescribed MAT medication. Buprenorphine is also a component of Suboxone®, a combination medication that combines buprenorphine with naloxone. 

Subutex helps treat opioid dependence and addiction by activating the same receptors in the brain triggered by drugs like oxycodone and heroin. Because Subutex only contains buprenorphine (without naloxone), it is ideal for people who are severely allergic to naloxone, the other component of Suboxone. The result? Reduced cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Find out how Subutex works—and who it's for—below.

What is Subutex?

Subutex is a partial opioid agonist. This means it binds to the same receptors as other opioids, like heroin and oxycodone, but the resulting effect is weaker than that produced by full agonist opioids. Yet it can still help reduce opioid cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms of opioid cessation include agitation, irritability, anxiety, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, goosebumps, nausea, and vomiting. The resulting discomfort, coupled with cravings, is one reason opioids are so hard to quit.

To help, a patient's care team should prescribe Subutex to cravings and improve comfort during withdrawal. The result? A greater likelihood of conquering opioid dependence and addiction and moving forward in life without the shackles of addiction.

One study examining buprenorphine's efficacy in treating opioid use disorders compared the relapse rates of patients who received buprenorphine for only six days, followed by a placebo, to patients who were kept on 16 mg of buprenorphine daily. The treatment failure rate for the placebo patients was 100% versus 25% for those kept on buprenorphine, a significant difference.

Finally, women who are pregnant or attempting to conceive when entering treatment typically choose to begin Subutex rather than Suboxone in order to avoid exposing the fetus to naloxone. Recent studies have been encouraging however that in-utero naloxone exposure is not problematic, and many women in long-term care who become pregnant now choose to remain on the combination product, Suboxone, during their pregnancy. 

What are the side effects of Subutex?

Subutex is a tablet that's taken orally. It is a sublingual formulation, meaning it should not be swallowed. Instead, the patient places it under the tongue and lets it dissolve over 10 – 15 minutes so that it goes directly into the bloodstream. Swallowing or chewing the tablet reduces its efficacy because when swallowed the stomach acid inactivates the medication, so it is important to follow usage instructions.

Subutex is usually taken anywhere from one to three times per day, depending on the patient's needs. You should only take Subutex as prescribed by your doctor. Your care team can also prepare you for potential side effects. While the internet may have a long list of side effects, the most commonly noticed side effects that bother patients are constipation and a decreased libido or sexual dysfunction. Less serious but sometimes noticed side effects could also include dizziness or sedation, but for patients who have been using opioids for a long time before treatment, these tend to be minimal. 

Some of these side effects can be tempered with preventative management. For example, patients can help minimize constipation by getting regular exercise, eating enough dietary fiber, and staying hydrated.

Just like any medication, Subutex may also cause liver disease in very rare cases. Signs of liver damage may include loss of appetite, severe abdominal pain, dark urine, yellowing of the eyes and skin, and nausea and vomiting that doesn't stop. Always seek immediate medical help if signs of liver damage arise.

The above list of symptoms isn't exhaustive. If you're considering Subutex, you should always consult a healthcare professional. They can advise on whether Subutex is an option for you, prescribe accordingly, prepare you for side effects, and monitor your usage.

Gold-standard care with Ophelia

While Subutex can be an effective treatment option, buprenorphine alone isn’t always enough to overcome opioid use disorder. Ophelia's online treatment platform offers Suboxone-based treatment that lets you get the support you need to address opioid addiction and dependence from the privacy and comfort of your own home. Our experts are standing by to answer your questions and determine what path is right for you.

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