Buprenorphine Side Effects and Addiction

buprenorphineBurprenorphine is an approved ingredient in two formulations, Subutex and Suboxone, which are both used in opiate addiction therapy. Suboxone is an approved opioid medication that aids in the treatment of opiate addictions. It contains a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is an opioid medication that is similar to other opioids (morphine, codeine, heroin). However, it produces a less euphoric effect, which makes it easier to discontinue use. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means its effects are limited compared to drugs like oxycodone or heroin because they are full opioid agonists. Suboxone (buprenorphine hydrochloride and naloxone hydrochloride) is used in the maintenance stage of opiate addiction. Today, buprenorphine is the only drug that can be prescribed in a physician’s office to treat opiate addiction. While most commonly used to treat addiction to heroin, buprenorphine can be used to treat addiction to any type of opiate, including oxycodones such as OxyContin and Percocet.

Suboxone also contains naloxone; which is an opioid antagonist. The naloxone is used to discourage users from abusing Suboxone. If injected, the naloxone will reach the bloodstream and cause the user to almost immediately go into withdrawal. However, when Suboxone is placed under the tongue (as directed), very little naloxone reaches the bloodstream. Therefore, the patient only feels the effects of buprenorphine.

Suboxone is beneficial to the patient because it reduces opioid use and helps patients stay in treatment by suppressing symptoms of opioid withdrawal and decreases cravings for opioids. Suboxone is a highly dependent drug; therefore, withdrawal symptoms may occur if you stop taking the medication too quickly.


The Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000) made is possible for physicians to legally treat patients with opioid addictions with the aid of buprenorphine. The SAMHSA Sponsored Buprenorphine Physician Clinical Support System (PCSS) is a network of trained physicians who are trained in buprenorphine and help practicing physicians incorporate buprenorphine into their treatment plans for those who have opioid addictions. Physicians also must agree to refer patients for drug addiction counseling. Physicians prescribing buprenorphine therapy must maintain a log of all patients using Subutex and Suboxone and record the medication that has been prescribed to them. The medical records of these patients are subject to periodic DEA and FDA review.

Certification to prescribe Buprenorphine is composed of more than 1,700 physicians or group practices in the United States. As of now, physicians currently are only allowed to prescribe Suboxone to 30 patients at any given time. The 30-patient limit also applies to group practices. However, Congress is considering the Drug Addiction Treatment Expansion Act of 2003. This legislation, if passed, will amend DATA 2000 by lifting the 30-patient limit imposed on group practices and allowing each physician in a group practice to prescribe buprenorphine to 30 patients.

Buprenorphine alone would be a highly dependent drug because it is an opioid medication similar to many other ones; however, the “high” is not quite as intense as other drugs (heroin and morphine). Within Suboxone, buprenorphine works with the naloxone which discourages abuse because if it is injected into the bloodstream, it causes immediate withdrawal effects.

Initial precautions were set in place before buprenorphine was made available to the public because of widespread pharmaceutical diversion and increased prescription drug abuse in the nation. Suboxone was designed specifically to meet FDA requirements with hopes that it would divert attention away from drug withdrawal in opiate addiction therapy. Further, in 2002 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reassessed the potential for abuse of, diversion of, and addiction to buprenorphine and rescheduled it from a Schedule V drug to a Schedule III drug, thus increasing the penalties for illegally obtaining, possessing, or abusing buprenorphine.

Buprenorphine Side Effects

Be careful while operating heavy machinery or driving because Suboxone may increase drowsiness, dizziness or impaired thinking. It is also dangerous to mix Suboxone with alcohol because it may increase the drowsiness and dizziness. Some side effects are less serious. Do not stop taking the medication but contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of these effects:

  • Headache
  • Pain
  • Problem sleeping
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation

Other side effects are more serious. Discontinue use and contact your doctor immediately if you are experiencing any of these effects:

  • An allergic reaction (difficulty breathing; closing of the throat; swelling of the lips, tongue or face; or hives)
  • Slow breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Liver problems (yellowing of the skin or eyes, dark colored urine, light colored stools, prolonged decreased appetite, nausea, or lower stomach pains


Buprenorphine is a derivative of thebaine, an extract of opium. The drug can produce feelings of euphoria, analgesia and sedation, thereby making is an opioid. Buprenorphine produces, however, a lesser degree of these respiratory depressive reactions than full opiate drugs such as heroin and morphine. It therefore does not have a significant impairment on cognitive or motor skills. It’s used to help reduce cravings for heroin and other strong opiates by also weakening the symptoms of withdrawal and assisting individuals of addiction to stop abusing drugs.

Buprenorphine is estimated to be effective for approximately ½ to 2/3 of the opiate abuser population. Thankfully, buprenorphine also has a “ceiling effect” which means that increasing the dosage taken of the drug does not produce increased effects after a certain point, or ceiling. Consequently though, high doses of the drug can actually precipitate withdrawal symptoms in opiate addicted individuals. Because of this ceiling effect, buprenorphine is less susceptible to abuse than other opiates. However, high doses of the drug can cause withdrawal symptoms.

Buprenorphine Addiction Help

If you or a loved one is addicted to Suboxone and wants to stop Suboxone abuse, it is important to seek help. Suboxone is a highly dependent drug. Once addicted, the effects are devastating. But, there is hope. If you are interested in receiving information on Suboxone detox or rehab, please call our toll free number at 1 (888) 371-5712.
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