Suboxone and Subutex therapy have completely changed the scope of medical detox for heroin and prescription pain killer withdrawal, but how do they work?

Suboxone and Subutex are two drugs that have been approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of opiate addiction. Both medications work to eradicate opiates’ influence on the brain, and both medications allow opiate addicted users to stop taking drugs such as heroin (or pills such as OxyContin or Vicodin) without experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms or struggling with drug cravings. What’s the difference between the two medications and which one is right for you?

The primary difference between Suboxone and Subutex is that Subutex contains a single active ingredient: buprenorphine while Suboxone contains two active ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone.

Suboxone was introduced into the market in 2002 and was called the “miracle drug” for opiate and heroin addicts. Suboxone is a combination of the semi-synthetic opiate, buprenorphine, and the drug naloxone, which counteracts the euphoric and depressant effects of opiates. It is administered in either a pill or film form and placed under the tongue, dissolved sublingually. As a partial opiate agonist, buprenorphine only partially activates the brain’s opiate receptors, greatly reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings, while naloxone prevents the euphoric and dangerous effects of taking opiates, minimizing the risk of abuse or overdose.

Naloxone is added to Suboxone to keep people from abusing the medication. For example, if you were high on heroin and took naloxone, you would crash into an immediate state of opiate withdrawal as it acts as an opiate antagonist. It fills the opiate receptors in the brain and won’t let other drugs activate these receptors, but unlike buprenorphine (which fills and activates receptors) naloxone will not activate opiate receptors. With receptors full but not activated, individuals feel immediate and intense withdrawal pain.

Due to this decreased risk of abuse and diversion, doctors have greater freedom to prescribe Suboxone in take-home doses.

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