What is Suboxone? Suboxone Strips, Suboxone Tablets & More
What is Suboxone? How does Suboxone work?
Suboxone is a brand name medication commonly prescribed by clinicians to treat opioid use disorder, and it’s a combination of two medications: buprenorphine and naloxone.
Buprenorphine helps relieve symptoms of opioid withdrawal, suppresses cravings, and reduces overdose risk. Naloxone prevents the medication from being injected or misused. The FDA has also approved generic versions of Suboxone.
Buprenorphine acts like a partial opioid in the brain, which is different from methadone, oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl. Because buprenorphine is a partial opioid, it reduces opioid cravings and withdrawal, but it does not result in the euphoric symptoms, or “high,” that people experience with full opioids. And further, because buprenorphine is a partial opioid, it has a ceiling effect—this means that after a certain dose, there is no additional opioid effect, which ultimately decreases the risk for overdose.
Naloxone (commonly known as Narcan) is an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks opioids in the brain. The combination of buprenorphine with naloxone discourages misuse of the medication.
What are the side effects of Suboxone?
All medications have potential side effects, and the same is true for Suboxone. Fortunately, Suboxone side effects are uncommon and tend to be mild. Common Suboxone effects include nausea, headache, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, excessive sweating, and stomach cramps.
As with any new medication, we recommend patients refrain from driving or engaging in other potentially hazardous activities until they know how their bodies will react. Otherwise, the use of Suboxone as prescribed causes no activity limitations.
Should I take Suboxone strips (AKA Suboxone films) or Suboxone pills (AKA Suboxone tablets)?
Although Suboxone typically comes in a film formulation (strips), you can find generic buprenorphine/naloxone in tablet form as well (pills). Suboxone films/strips and tablets/pills are equally effective for the treatment of opioid use disorder, including cravings, withdrawal, and overdose prevention. Films and tablets have the same strength, and one is not stronger than the other.
Insurance companies often dictate which formulation (films vs tablets) is covered, thereby determining the type of prescription. A couple pertinent points:
- Suboxone tablets are often less expensive than films, which is important to know for patients paying out-of-pocket for their medication.
- Patients may say they prefer the taste of one over the other, but this preference is very individualized.
At the end of the day, both tablets and pills can be effective in recovery. Which one you choose will be a decision you and your doctor will make together – taking into account your past medical history and what’s covered under your insurance.
How do I take Suboxone?
How to use the sublingual Suboxone pills (AKA Suboxone tablets):
- Drink water before taking the tablet(s) to help moisten your mouth.
- Do not cut, crush, chew, or swallow the tablet(s).
- Place the tablet(s) beneath the tongue and keep there until completely dissolved. This generally takes less than 15 minutes.
- If you take 2 or more tablets at a time, place all tablets in different locations beneath the tongue.
- Do not eat or drink anything until the tablets are completely dissolved.
How to use the sublingual Suboxone strips (AKA Suboxone films):
- Drink water before taking the strip(s) to help moisten your mouth.
- Do not cut, chew, or swallow the strip(s).
- Place the strip(s) beneath the tongue and keep there until completely dissolved. This generally takes less than 15 minutes.
- If you take 2 or more strips at a time, place the films in different locations beneath the tongue.
What is the Suboxone spit trick?
You may have some chalky residue left in your mouth after the Suboxone dissolves, and this is where the Suboxone spit trick comes in. Spit out the Suboxone saliva (after the film/tab is completely dissolved), then you may want to rinse and spit again. Suboxone is absorbed beneath your tongue, so it’s perfectly fine to spit afterwards.
What are the alternatives to Suboxone?
Medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) includes buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone—all of which act to reduce opioid cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and overdose risk. Buprenorphine is one component of Suboxone.
Buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are approved by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for this purpose, and MOUD is most effective when used in conjunction with counseling and psychosocial support.
Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist, which means that it resembles other opioids like oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl. It functions by saturating opioid receptors in the brain, ultimately blocking, or blunting, the effects of other opioids. When compared to methadone, buprenorphine has many advantages:
- Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is widely considered to be safer than methadone and has a lower risk for sedation and overdose when taken as prescribed;
- The recommended effective dose is well-known and can be safely reached within 1-2 days for most patients, whereas effective methadone dosing varies unpredictably from person-to-person and may take weeks to achieve; and
- Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) can be prescribed by licensed and trained medical providers in any treatment setting, whereas methadone is strictly regulated and can only be provided through federally licensed outpatient treatment programs.
Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that saturates opioid receptors in the brain, which prevents individuals from experiencing the euphoric effects of drugs like heroin or fentanyl. It is essentially a “blocker” and reduces cravings for both opioids and alcohol.
Learn more about how Suboxone treatment can work for you—without ever stepping into a clinic.
When should I start taking Suboxone?
It’s important to wait until you feel mild-to-moderate withdrawal symptoms before taking your first dose of Suboxone. Otherwise, you might go into what is known as “precipitated withdrawal,” meaning you may experience intense withdrawal symptoms very suddenly, which can be uncomfortable and, in certain cases, dangerous.
The opioid withdrawal timeline varies based on your level of tolerance, typical substance, and dose. In general, patients should wait the following number of hours before Suboxone induction:
- 12-24 hours for short-acting opioids (heroin, oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, Dilaudid);
- 36 hours for intermediate-acting opioids (fentanyl, Oxycontin, MS Contin); and
- 48-72 hours for long-acting opioids (methadone).
What are common opioid withdrawal symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Excessive sweating
- Inability to sleep
- Abdominal cramping
- Goosebumps on skin
- Nausea & vomiting
- Blurry vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
You can read more about opioid withdrawal here.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, but there are opioid withdrawal treatments your medical provider can prescribe to help relieve these symptoms. Clonidine helps reduce anxiety, irritability, muscle aches, sweating, and runny nose. Loperamide (Imodium) helps relieve diarrhea. Bentyl helps relieve gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, especially abdominal cramping. And lastly, once you start the induction and stabilization phase with Suboxone, you will experience significant reduction and relief from withdrawal symptoms.
At Bicycle Health, you’ll work with your medical provider to develop a personalized and safe home induction plan. In addition to your provider, you’ll also be supported by our Bicycle Health Clinical Support Specialists and Behavioral Health Coordinators.