Buprenorphine vs. Suboxone: What’s the Difference?

October 17, 2022

Table of Contents

Buprenorphine and buprenorphine-containing medications like Suboxone are FDA-approved Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD).[1] 

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid medication used to treat OUD. It is the active ingredient in Suboxone. Suboxone is a combination medication containing both Buprenorphine and Naloxone.  

What Is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a MAT for the treatment of OUD that is dispensed in a variety of medication forms, both by itself and also in combination formulations.[2] 

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist medication that stimulates the opioid receptors in the brain to a lesser extent than full opioid agonists. Because of this, it does not create the euphoric opioid “high,” but it still keeps opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms to a minimum. 

Buprenorphine comes by itself in generic form, or under the brand name Subutex. It can also be dispensed in an injectable form called Sublocade. Lastly, it can be dispensed in a combination form with Naloxone, with a brand name called Suboxone. 

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a brand-name product that contains Buprenorphine and Naloxone.[3] 

The naloxone component of Suboxone remains dormant unless the drug is misused through injection, in which case it becomes active in the bloodstream and prevents overdose. Naloxone is therefore added as an additional safety feature to Suboxone in case the individual attempts to misuse their suboxone by injecting it. 

Buprenorphine (Suboxone) is the gold standard in opioid addiction treatment. It is an evidence-based treatment method for OUD that is proven to be effective and safe for long-term use.[4]

Benefits of Buprenorphine & Suboxone

Both Suboxone and buprenorphine on its own are effective medications for helping to maintain recovery from OUD. They both have the following benefits:

  • Fewer opioid cravings
  • Lower levels of illicit opioid use
  • Reduced rate of relapse
  • Fewer and less severe opioid withdrawal symptoms
  • Better treatment compliance and retention

Buprenorphine can be taken as soon as early opioid withdrawal symptoms start to show, usually within 12 to 24 hours after stopping opioid use. 

The injectable form of buprenorphine (Sublocade) offers the added benefit of being an extended-release formulation that only needs to be taken once per month. It is also safe to take during pregnancy and for those who have a rare reaction to naloxone.

Is it Better To Take Suboxone or Generic Buprenorphine?

Essentially, they are equally good. Pure buprenorphine and Suboxone are equally good at treating OUD, as they contain the exact same active ingredient. 

The only potential advantage to Suboxone is that it contains Naloxone, which serves as a safety mechanism for anyone that might attempt to misuse the medication by injecting it. If you have any concerns that you might attempt to dissolve and inject your Buprenorphine, it might be better to use Suboxone as it contains Naloxone that will prevent overdose. Other than this, however, there is no reason to choose Suboxone over other formulations of Buprenorphine. Depending on your insurance, Suboxone may be covered when pure Buprenorphine is not covered, or vice versa. Therefore most individuals end up using whichever formulation is paid for by their insurance. 

Comparison of Buprenorphine vs. Suboxone

Medication Ingredient(s) Formulation Misuse potential
Suboxone Buprenorphine and Naloxone combination Sublingual Film/Strip or Tablet Low potential for misuse
Buprenorphine Buprenorphine only Dispensed as a sublingual film, tablet (Brand Name Subutex) or extended-release injection (Sublocade) Higher potential for misuse by injection without the abuse-deterrent Naloxone

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Information About Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/information-about-medication-assisted-treatment-mat. February 2019. Accessed September 2022.
  2. Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. July 2022. Accessed September 2022.
  3. Suboxone. Indivior, PLC. https://www.suboxone.com/. 2022. Accessed September 2022.
  4. Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction. November 2016. Accessed September 2022.

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