Suboxone vs. Subutex: What’s the Difference?

Suboxone and Subutex—generically known as buprenorphine—are both partial opioid agonists that are used in treating cases of addiction to heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers.

BuprenorphineIn 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported there were 9.3 million prescriptions filled in the U.S. for buprenorphine.1

Subutex comes in a tablet form that is intended to be dissolved under the tongue. Suboxone does as well; however, it is now more commonly made in a film strip instead. Swallowing or chewing these tablets will result in lowered efficacy; it will not produce a high. Buprenorphine—the main ingredient in both drugs—works by filling opioid receptors in the brain, thereby fooling them into believing the individual is still using opioid drugs. This process allows a person in detox to slowly wean off the illicit substance he has been abusing, while avoiding some of the discomfort that comes with opioid withdrawal. Both of these medications also eliminate or seriously reduce drug cravings.

Similar But Not Identical

Suboxone also contains another drug called naloxone, whereas Subutex does not. The naloxone component serves to inhibit the user from getting high off the buprenorphine, a factor that its methadone counterpart lacks. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that limits the abuse potential of Suboxone. Thus, abuse is naturally much more common with Subutex than Suboxone since naloxone is lacking in the former.

Buprenorphine abuse is a widespread issue. As prescriptions for these drugs have increased, so has demand and availability on the street. This leads to higher abuse rates.

Most of the time, abusers of Subutex and Suboxone snort or inject other drugs alongside them. This form of polydrug abuse is quite dangerous and poses serious risks to the abuser’s health, including overdose—a fate more than 41,000 people suffered in the U.S. in 2012.2

Opioid Treatment

SuboxoneBoth Suboxone and Subutex are given to people struggling with addiction in regular daily doses to supplement the illicit drug they are giving up. In exchange, these people feel little in the way of withdrawal symptoms. The initial dose varies from one person to the next, depending on how often the person was using other drugs, the dosages, etc. Generally, it is eight mg on the first day of treatment, then bumped to 16 mg on day two, which levels out to anywhere from four mg to 24 mg once the addict enters the maintenance period.3 Over time, the dose is reduced in step-down increments until the user completely removes himself from the program and weans off the drug entirely, or until he gets to the lowest possible dose and chooses to stay on it for management purposes.

Many opioid addicts choose long-term maintenance therapy over just using Suboxone or Subutex for a short detox period. One reason is that the process of addressing addiction involves many more facets than simply medically supplementing the abused substances. These medications should always be used in conjunction with other treatment methods, such as counseling and support group participation.4

In addition, rates of efficacy have been reported as falling drastically after these drug therapies are discontinued, signaling that success is more likely if one stays in the medicated treatment program long term—sometimes indefinitely. Most physicians will prescribe Subutex initially upon admission for treatment, then follow with Suboxone once the patient completes detox or a residential rehabilitation. This is safer with buprenorphine-based drugs as the chance of overdose is much lower than it is on methadone.

Neither of these drugs will completely eliminate the withdrawal experience. Buprenorphine has shown widely varying results in studies on its efficacy. Still, it is popular among a lot of prescribing physicians, and many recovering addicts swear by it. A study of more than 600 addicts being treated with Suboxone showed that 49 percent did successfully reduce their abuse of prescription opioid pain relievers after at least 12 weeks of treatment, but the National Institutes of Health notes this success rate dropped to a mere 8.6 percent after the recovering addicts stopped using the medication. Other sources, such as The Fix, report success rates as high as 88 percent.5

If you’re in search of a complete treatment approach that offers you the advantage of flexible attendance and long-range detox plans, overseen by consulting physicians, you’ve come to the right place.

At The Oaks at La Paloma, we strive to make detox and rehab a comfortable learning experience. Reach out to one of our admissions coordinators today at our 24-hour, toll-free helpline for more information on rehabilitating your life with us by your side.

1Buprenorphine.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. July 2013. Web. Accessed 14 July 2017

2Drug overdose-related deaths double from 1999 to 2012.” Fox News. 2 December 2014. Web. Accessed 14 July 2017.

3Buprenorphine Dosage.” 5 July 2017. Web. Accessed 14 July 2017.

4Painkiller abuse treated by sustained buprenorphine/naloxone.” NIH. 8 November 2011. Web. Accessed 14 July 2017.

5 Matesa J. “The Great Suboxone Debate.” The Fix. 13 April 2011. Web. Accessed 14 July 2017.