While it’s a subject that needs more research, Suboxone may affect the pancreas and potentially lead to pancreatitis.
Less established is a link between Suboxone and pancreatic cancer. Some evidence suggests that opioids can increase one’s pancreatic cancer risk, but the buprenorphine in Suboxone is a notably mild opioid that is taken at much more controlled doses than is typically associated with opioids as a whole.
Known Side Effects of Suboxone
While Suboxone and similar buprenorphine/naloxone medications are accepted, evidence-based treatments, this type of medication can still have negative side effects. Some of the most common side effects of Suboxone include the following:
- Attention issues
- Dry mouth
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Muscle aching and cramping
- Tooth decay
- Trouble sleeping
- Vision changes, such as blurred vision or dilated pupils
In rare cases, more serious side effects can occur, such as respiratory distress and adrenal issues. A person taking Suboxone for multiple weeks is likely to develop a physical dependence on the drug, developing withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking it. However, it’s noteworthy that buprenorphine is an opioid, so people taking it as part of a treatment for opioid use disorder were likely already dependent on other opioids before starting the medication.
Additionally, the buprenorphine component of Suboxone does seem to have some interactions with the pancreas worth discussing, as noted in the next few sections.
What Are the Effects of Suboxone on Pancreatic Enzyme Synthesis & Secretion?
Opioids are known to affect the pancreas, specifically in its secretions. For context, the pancreas is an organ key to digestion, excreting enzymes that help us digest foods.
Despite being commonly used to treat acute and chronic pancreatitis, opioids (including buprenorphine, the main ingredient in Suboxone) may also sometimes cause pancreatitis in users, according to some studies. This is a painful condition in which digestive enzymes activate while in the pancreas, causing irritation and inflammation. This can also cause further health complications, including potentially becoming a chronic condition due to the damage these enzymes cause.
This seems to support older findings, where it was found pancreatic enzyme synthesis and secretion is different between normal rats administered buprenorphine and rats with acute pancreatitis. Put in simple terms, Suboxone has the potential to change how the pancreas functions and may increase one’s risk of pancreatitis, although it isn’t clear to what degree.
Does Suboxone Cause Pancreatic Cancer?
Considering the above, some may wonder if Suboxone and similar drugs may increase one’s risk of pancreatic cancer, but there doesn’t seem to be strong evidence suggesting this. Some studies have explored this possibility but don’t seem to have illustrated a strong link between taking Suboxone and developing pancreatic cancer.
According to one 2022 study, of 26,417 people who reported side effects when taking Suboxone, only six developed pancreatic cancer. This is a total of only 0.02% of people taking Suboxone, and this study doesn’t seem to link those occurrences of pancreatic cancer to the use of Suboxone specifically.
With that said, there is some evidence that opioids do have the potential to impact one’s risk of pancreatic cancer. At the same time, discussions on this topic usually focus on full opioid agonists, like heroin and fentanyl, not weaker opioid partial agonists (the category of drug that buprenorphine falls under).
This is a subject worth researching further. However, at the very least, it doesn’t seem like taking Suboxone and similar medications as prescribed significantly increases one’s risk of pancreatic cancer, at least based on current medical evidence.
Medical Advice for Those Considering Suboxone
If you’re considering talking to a doctor about Suboxone or similar medication for opioid use disorder, remember that any side effects and health risks need to be put into context. Broadly, Suboxone is typically considered a safe prescription medication when used as prescribed and in regular contact with a doctor about any side effects.
If Suboxone helps you to stop misusing stronger, more addictive opioids, the overall health benefits it provides more than outweigh its negative properties and health risks. Regular misuse of more powerful opioids is far more dangerous than the prescribed, controlled use of a partial opioid agonist like buprenorphine.
Still, no prescription medication is for everyone, and it’s possible that some people may not react well to Suboxone. It’s valid to have health concerns, especially if you have already taken Suboxone or similar medications and had a bad reaction or didn’t experience the benefits you hoped for. It’s worth discussing these concerns with a medical professional to better put them in context and explore some alternative options that may better suit your needs.
If you do experience any side effects while taking Suboxone, contact your doctor promptly. They may adjust your dosage or recommend a different medication.
- Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. January 2023. Accessed February 2023.
- Paradoxical Pain from Opioids: Increased Risk of Acute Pancreatitis. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10620-019-05909-8. October 2019. Accessed February 2023.
- Effect of Buprenorphine on Pancreatic Enzyme Synthesis and Secretion in Normal Rats and Rats With Acute Edematous Pancreatitis. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7525167/. November 1994. Accessed February 2023.
- Suboxone and Pancreatic Cancer – A Phase IV Clinical Study of FDA Data. eHealthMe. https://www.ehealthme.com/ds/suboxone/pancreatic-cancer/. November 2022. Accessed February 2023.
- The Link Between Opioid Medication and Pancreatic Cancer. RUSH University Medical Center. https://www.rush.edu/news/link-between-opioid-medication-and-pancreatic-cancer. Retrieved February 2023.
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD
Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More