Other medications

What is Subutex®?

While Suboxone® is considered the gold standard, it’s important to understand the benefits and limitations of Subutex.

Ophelia team
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Fact checked by
Arthur Robin Williams, MD

Addiction to opioids has been a high-profile public health issue for many years, especially among pain patients seeking more potent highs from illicit drugs after being cut off from a prescription. Synthetic opioid deaths increased between 2020 and 2021, with over 80,000 fentanyl-related deaths reported. Communities and families across the country are scrambling to find solutions.

While Suboxone® is considered the gold standard for managing opioid addiction and reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, Subutex® is used under narrower circumstances, such as when an individual is pregnant or has a severe allergy to naloxone. Suboxone is the preferred treatment option, but it’s also important to understand the benefits and limitations of Subutex.  

What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that includes the illegal drug heroin and prescriptions used to treat moderate to severe pain, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. 

While opioids can be helpful when used correctly, they also come with a high risk of addiction and overdose. The CDC reports that opioids are now the leading cause of death from drug overdoses in the United States.

What is Subutex?

Subutex is a prescription medication used to treat opioid addiction. It contains the active ingredient buprenorphine, an opioid partial agonist that binds to the same receptors in the brain as other opioids without producing the same effects.

In other words, buprenorphine stabilizes opioid receptors over time, helping people avoid the roller coaster effect of short-acting, full-agonist drugs. It can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing the same high as other opioids.

While Subutex reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms, it doesn’t deter people from misusing the medication, which can hinder its effectiveness as a treatment. Suboxone® is a combination drug containing buprenorphine and naloxone, which binds to opioid receptors to block the effects of drugs. It also limits the already abbreviated high of buprenorphine to make the treatment even more effective.

How to take Subutex

Subutex is a tablet that is taken orally. Unlike most oral drugs that are meant to be swallowed, the Subutex tablet is a sublingual drug, so it is placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve.

Chewing or swallowing the tablet will make it less effective.

Subutex is typically taken two to three times daily depending on your doctor’s recommendations. If you are taking the medication for the first time, they will start you on a low dose and then increase it as needed.

It's important to take Subutex exactly as prescribed and for the condition that it is intended to treat. Taking more than prescribed can lead to an overdose, and taking less than prescribed can make it less effective.

How long does Subutex stay in your system?

Subutex usually lasts for around 24 hours. However, the length of time it lasts can vary from person to person based on:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Addiction severity
  • Other medical conditions
  • How Subutex is taken (under the tongue vs. swallowing)

It's important to be as consistent as possible with this treatment. If you miss one scheduled dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you remember close to your next scheduled dose, do not double up—this will not make the medication any more effective. However, if you miss multiple doses, you will experience withdrawal symptoms and may require medical attention.

Does Subutex have side effects?

Subutex is a safe and effective medication when used as prescribed. However, like all medications, it has the potential for side effects. If you are concerned about these side effects, discuss them with your doctor and consider whether another medication would be a better option. Common side effects of Subutex include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  •  Headache

If you experience these side effects, ask your doctor about trying Suboxone instead.

In rare cases, Subutex can cause more severe side effects, like:

  • Allergic reactions (difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat)
  • Seizures
  • Slow or shallow breathing

If you experience these side effects, seek medical help immediately.

Are you struggling with opioid dependence?

Ophelia offers Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid dependence. MAT is a scientifically proven treatment that combines medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat addiction.

We provide the latest evidence-based treatments for opioid dependence, and our holistic care experts are available 7 days a week to support you through your treatment journey.

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