Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I have to feel sick to start the medication for it to work best?

When you take your first dose of SUBOXONE, if you already have high levels of another opioid in your system, the SUBOXONE will compete with those opioid molecules and replace them at the receptor sites. Because SUBOXONE has milder opioid effects than full agonist opioids, you may go into a rapid opioid withdrawal and feel sick, a condition which is called “precipitated withdrawal.”

By already being in mild to moderate withdrawal when you take your first dose of SUBOXONE, the medication will make you feel noticeably better, not worse.

How does Suboxone work?

Suboxone binds to the same receptors as other opioid drugs. It mimics the effects of other opioids by alleviating cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This allows you to address the psychosocial reasons behind your opioid use.

When will I start to feel better?

Most patients feel a measurable improvement by 30 minutes, with the full effects clearly noticeable after about 1 hour.

How long will Suboxone last?

After the first hour, many people say they feel pretty good for most of the day. Responses to SUBOXONE will vary based on factors such as tolerance and metabolism, so each patient’s dosing is individualized. Your doctor may increase your dose of Suboxone during the first week to help keep you from feeling sick.

Can I go to work right after my first dose?

SUBOXONE can cause drowsiness and slow reaction times. These responses are more likely over the first few weeks of treatment, when your dose is being adjusted. During this time, your ability to drive, operate machinery, and play sports may be affected. Some people do go to work right after their first SUBOXONE dose; however, many people prefer to take the first and possibly the second day off until they feel better.

If you are concerned about missing work, talk with your physician about possible ways to minimize the possibility of your taking time off (eg, scheduling your Induction on a Friday).

Is it important to take my medication at the same time each day?

In order to make sure that you do not get sick, it is important to take your medication at the same time every day.

If I have more than one tablet, do I need to take them together at the same time?

Yes and no—you do need to take your dose at one “sitting,” but you do not necessarily need to fit all the tablets under your tongue simultaneously. Some people prefer to take their tablets this way because it’s faster, but this may not be what works best for you. The most important thing is to be sure to take the full daily dose you were prescribed, so that your body maintains constant levels of SUBOXONE.

SUBOXONE® (buprenorphine HCl/naloxone HCl dihydrate)sublingual tablet

Why does Suboxone need to be placed under the tongue?

There are two large veins under your tongue (you can see them with a mirror). Placing the medication under your tongue allows SUBOXONE to be absorbed quickly and safely through these veins as the tablet dissolves. If you chew or swallow your medication, it will not be correctly absorbed as it is extensively metabolized by the liver. Similarly, if the medication is not allowed to dissolve completely, you won’t receive the full effect.

Why can’t I talk while the medication is dissolving under my tongue?

When you talk, you move your tongue, which lets the undissolved SUBOXONE “leak” out from underneath, thereby preventing it from being absorbed by the two veins. Entertaining yourself by reading or watching television while your medication dissolves can help the time to pass more quickly.

Why does it sometimes only take 5 minutes for Suboxone to dissolve and other times it takes much longer?

Generally, it takes about 5-10 minutes for a tablet to dissolve. However, other factors (eg, the moisture of your mouth) can effect that time. Drinking something before taking your medication is a good way to help the tablet dissolve more quickly.

If I forget to take my Suboxone for a day will I feel sick?

SUBOXONE works best when taken every 24 hours; however, it may last longer than 24 hours, so you may not get sick. If you miss your dose, try to take it as soon as possible, unless it is almost time for your next dose. If it is almost time for your next dose, just skip the dose you forgot, and take next dose as prescribed. Do not take two doses at once unless directed to do so by your physician.

In the future, the best way to help yourself remember to take your medication is to start taking it at the same time that you perform a routine, daily activity, such as when you get dressed in the morning. This way, the daily activity will start to serve as a reminder to take your SUBOXONE.

What happens if I still feel sick after taking Suboxone for a while?

There are some reasons why you may still feel sick. You may not be taking the medication correctly or the dose may not be right for you. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you still feel sick.

What happens if I take drugs and then take Suboxone?

You will probably feel very sick and experience what is called a “precipitated withdrawal.” SUBOXONE competes with other opioids and will displace those opioid molecules from the receptors. Because SUBOXONE has less opioid effects than full agonist opioids, you will go into withdrawal and feel sick.

What happens if I take Suboxone and then take drugs?

As long as SUBOXONE is in your body, it will significantly reduce the effects of any other opioids used, because SUBOXONE will dominate the receptor sites and block other opioids from producing any effect.

What are the side effects of this medication?

Some of the most common side effects that patients experience are nausea, headache, constipation, and body aches and pains. However, most side effects seen with SUBOXONE appear during the first week or two of treatment, and then generally subside. If you are experiencing any side effects, be sure to talk about it with your doctor or nurse, as s/he can often treat those symptoms effectively until they abate on their own.

What is an opioid?

Opioids and opiates are synthetic and natural drugs that are related to drugs found in opium; many, such as heroin, are addictive narcotics. Many prescription pain medications are opioids, such as codeine, Vicodin®* (hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen), Demerol®† (meperidine hydrochloride, USP), Dilaudid®* (hydromorphone), morphine, OxyContin®‡ (oxycodone hydrochloride controlled-release), and Percodan®§ (oxycodone and aspirin tablets, USP). Methadone and buprenorphine are also opioids.

A small amount of naloxone is in Suboxone. Naloxone is added to discourage misuse of Suboxone. If Suboxone were to be crushed and injected, the naloxone would cause the person to go into withdrawal.

Why are opioids used to treat opioid dependence?

Many family members wonder why doctors use buprenorphine to treat opioid dependence, since it is in the same family as heroin. Some of them ask, “Isn’t this substituting one addiction for another?” But the two medications used to treat opioid dependence—methadone and buprenorphine—are not “just substitution.” Many medical studies since 1965 show that maintenance treatment helps keep patients healthier, keeps them from getting into legal troubles, and reduces the risk of getting diseases and infections that are transferred when needles are shared.

What is the right dose of Suboxone?

Dependence is a developed need to have the opioid receptors in the brain occupied by an opioid. Finding just the right amount of Suboxone to fill the receptors at the right rate is an important part of the induction process.

Every opioid can have stimulating or sedating effects, especially in the first weeks of treatment. The right dose of Suboxone is the one that allows the patient to feel and act normally. It can sometimes take a few weeks to find the right dose. During the first few weeks, the dose may be too high, or too low, which can lead to sickness, daytime sleepiness, or trouble sleeping at night. The patient may ask that family members help keep track of the timing of these symptoms, and write them down. Then the doctor can use all these clues to adjust the amount and time of day for buprenorphine doses.

Once the right dose is found, it is important to take it on time in a regular way, so the patient’s body can maintain consistent medication levels to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

How can the family support good treatment?

Even though maintenance treatment for opioid dependence works very well, it is not a cure. This means that the patient will continue to need the stable dose of SUBOXONE, with regular monitoring by the doctor. This is similar to other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or asthma. These illnesses can be treated, but there is no permanent cure, so patients often stay on the same medication for a long time. The best way to help and support the patient is to encourage regular medical care, encourage the patient not to skip or forget to take the medication and most importantly, encourage the patient to partake in regular counseling sessions or support groups.

Regular medical care

Most patients will be required to see the physician for ongoing Suboxone® treatment every two to four weeks, once they are stable. If they miss an appointment, they may not be able to refill the medication on time, and may even go into withdrawal, which could be dangerous.

Counseling

Most patients who have become dependent on opioids will need formal counseling at some point in their care. The patient may have regular appointments with an individual counselor, or for group therapy. These appointments are key parts of treatment, and work together with the Suboxone to improve success. Sometimes family members may be asked to join in family therapy sessions to provide additional support to the patient and information to the health care provider.

Support Groups

Most patients use some kind of support group to maintain their healthy lifestyle. It sometimes takes several visits to different groups to find a comfortable environment. In the first year of recovery from opioid dependence, some patients go to meetings every day, or several times per week. These meetings work with Suboxone to improve the likelihood of a patient’s treatment success. Family members may have their own meetings, such as Al-Anon, or Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), to support them in adjusting to life with a patient who has become dependent on opioids.

Taking the medication

SUBOXONE is an unusual medication because it is best absorbed into the bloodstream when taken “sublingually” meaning the patient must hold the tablet under his or her tongue while the medicine dissolves (swallowing SUBOXONE actually reduces its effectiveness). Please be aware that this process takes about 5-10 minutes. While the medication is dissolving, the patient should not speak. It is very important that the family support the patient by understanding that s/he will be “out of commission” for those 5-10 minutes intervals surrounding regular daily dosing times.

One way to support new SUBOXONE patients is by helping them to make a habit of taking their dose at the same time every day. Tying dosing to a routine, everyday activity (eg, getting dressed in the morning) is often one of the best ways to do this, because then the activity itself begins to serve as a reminder.

Storing the medication

If Suboxone is lost or misplaced, the patient may skip doses or become ill, so it is very important to find a good place to keep the medication safely at home—away from children or pets, and always in the same location, so it can be easily found. The doctor may give the patient a few “backup” pills, in a separate bottle, in case an appointment has to be rescheduled, or there is an emergency of some kind. It is best if the location of the Suboxone is not next to the vitamins, or the aspirin, or other over-the-counter medications, to avoid confusion. If a family member or visitor takes Suboxone by mistake, a physician should be contacted immediately.

What does Suboxone treatment mean to the family?

It is hard for any family when a member finds out s/he has a chronic medical condition. This is true for opioid dependence as well. When chronic conditions go untreated, they often have severe complications which could lead to permanent disability or even death. Fortunately, Suboxone maintenance can be a successful treatment, especially if it is integrated with counseling and support for life changes.

Chronic disease means the disease is there every day, and must be treated every day. This takes time and attention away from other things, and family members may resent the effort and time and money that it takes for Suboxone® treatment and counseling. It might help to compare opioid dependence to other chronic diseases, like diabetes or high blood pressure. After all, it takes time to make appointments to go to the doctor for blood pressure checks, and it may annoy the family if the food has to be low in cholesterol, or unsalted. But most families can adjust to these changes, when they consider that it may prevent a heart attack or a stroke for their loved one.

It is common for people to think of substance dependence as a weakness in character, instead of a disease. Perhaps the first few times the person used drugs it was poor judgment. However, by the time the patient became dependent, taking drugs every day, and needing medical treatment, it can be considered to be a “brain disease” rather than a problem with willpower.