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Can Suboxone Help With Heroin Dependence?

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Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is a combination of an opioid agonist/antagonist that binds to the same opioid receptors as heroin. When taken properly, it can help reduce drug cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. It is in this way that it serves as a treatment for Opioid Use Disorder. It is FDA approved for this indication.

If you're struggling with heroin use, Suboxone could be a critical part of your recovery program.

While medications are critical for the treatment of OUD, just 18% of people with substance use disorder have access to them and use them for recovery.[1] Find out how Suboxone works for heroin use disorder (HUD) here. 

How Does Suboxone Help With Heroin Dependence?

Suboxone is an FDA approved medication for patients with Heroin Use Disorder. (HUD). Suboxone is a partial opioid that can help prevent withdrawal symptoms when a person stops taking heroin. It can also reduce their cravings for heroin.

When taken by itself, Suboxone has a very low risk of overdose due to its “ceiling effect” (the effects of Suboxone reach a maximum even if the person ingests very high doses, which prevents over-sedation and overdose). However, overdose is still possible, particularly if combined with other substances, so it is important to use Suboxone only as directed by your medical provider.

Effectiveness of Suboxone Treatment for Heroin Dependence

Suboxone is proven to help people recover from OUDs, including heroin. Medications like Suboxone:[2]

  • Reduce opioid use
  • Reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission, including HIV and hepatitis C 
  • Lower instances of criminal behavior and criminal justice involvement 
  • Keep people in treatment
  • Lower overdose risk
  • Increase employment rates

In traditional addiction treatment programs, people get medications acutely to help treat immediate effects of withdrawal but do not get started on long term medications to prevent relapse. Relapse rates are 90% or higher in this model.[3] Relapsing after detox is incredibly dangerous, as your body is no longer used to high levels of drugs. A hit that seems safe could kill you.

In a study of people given Suboxone, 18% were not using opioids at all just one month later, compared to only 6% of people given a placebo. Those individuals using Suboxone had fewer opioid cravings.[4]

Suboxone can help people overcome very serious heroin dependence. 

Who Is a Candidate for Suboxone Treatment?

Almost everybody!

Suboxone is a safe and highly effective therapy when delivered by a licensed professional.

You could be a good candidate for treatment if you meet the following criteria:[5]

  • Are dependent on an opioid like heroin 
  • Have people like family members and friends supporting your recovery 
  • Are getting help for a co-occurring mental health issue (like depression)
  • Don't feel suicidal 
  • Are willing to comply with your treatment plan 
  • Aren't using drugs like benzodiazepines or drinking alcohol

Your doctor can help you decide if Suboxone is right for you. If it is, it might be the thing that allows you to truly stop using heroin for good.

Sources

  1. Buprenorphine Misuse Decreased Among U.S. Adults With Opioid Use Disorder From 2015-2019. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/2021/10/buprenorphine-misuse-decreased-among-us-adults-with-opioid-use-disorder-from-2015-2019. October 2021. Accessed July 2022.
  2. How Effective Are Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/efficacy-medications-opioid-use-disorder. December 2021. Accessed July 2022.
  3. Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. The Ochsner Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/. 2018. Accessed July 2022.
  4. Suboxone. European Medicines Agency. https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/medicines/human/EPAR/suboxone. Accessed July 2022.
  5. Practice Guidance for Buprenorphine for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorders: Results of an Expert Panel Process. Substance Abuse. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4470850/. June 2015. Accessed July 2022.

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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