Suboxone may be able to reverse an opioid overdose, with credible reports stating this. However, that isn’t the purpose of the drug, and ideally, one would use naloxone explicitly for the purpose of reversing overdoses to prepare for that possibility.
Even if Suboxone may work as an emergency solution, an overdose-reversing naloxone prescription will be more reliable and a more straightforward way to save someone who is overdosing on opioids.
Can Suboxone Reverse an Overdose?
Suboxone isn’t intended to reverse an opioid overdose. Suboxone is intended for use as a medication for opioid use disorder (mOUD). This is its designed purpose and the one the primary focus of research into this drug and similar medications. However, one component of the drug is naloxone.
Discussed more below, naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of opioids. In the case of buprenorphine/naloxone combination drugs like Suboxone, this is to lower the drug’s misuse potential. However, naloxone is also prescribed on its own as an emergency overdose treatment, as it can rapidly counteract the effects of opioids.
While this subject hasn’t been heavily researched, there are credible reports of people using buprenorphine/naloxone drugs to reverse an opioid overdose. One paper described a case in which a person who has been using heroin with another person used Suboxone after the other person began to overdose. He dissolved some Suboxone into water and injected it into her veins, which caused the naloxone present in the Suboxone to begin reversing the effects of the opioids in the overdosing person’s body. She soon regained consciousness.
While this does suggest this might work as an emergency solution, it needs to be emphasized this isn’t what the drug is for. If there is a risk a person may overdose on an opioid or might be near someone else who overdoses, they should request a naloxone prescription from their doctor for the purpose of reversing an overdose. Even if one is in recovery and doesn’t believe they will misuse opioids in the near future, such a prescription is still good to have in the case of an emergency relapse.
Naloxone for Opioid Overdoses
The reason naloxone is used to reverse opioid overdoses is because it is an opioid antagonist. This is essentially the opposite of opioid agonists like heroin and fentanyl. Naloxone attaches to opioid receptors, blocking them. It also reverses the effects of opioids already affecting an individual.
This is a life-saving drug, as it can allow someone whose breathing has been dangerously affected by an opioid overdose to begin breathing normally again. Since it can save a person’s life, this can sometimes be what prompts them to seek out help for their drug misuse.
When prescribed on its own, naloxone comes as a nasal spray and injection. Many people prefer the nasal spray form, as its use is fairly straightforward, and it is less invasive than an injection.
If you do get a naloxone prescription, make sure to familiarize yourself and those who live with you how it works before an issue occurs, so it can be quickly and properly administered in the case of an overdose.
- Intravenous Use of Illicit Buprenorphine/Naloxone to Reverse an Acute Heroin Overdose. Journal of Opioid Management. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3343634/. May 2012. Accessed February 2023.
- Naloxone DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/naloxone. January 2022. Accessed February 2023.
- How Do Naloxone-Based Interventions Work to Reduce Overdose Deaths: A Realist Review. Harm Reduction Journal. https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12954-022-00599-4. February 2022. Accessed February 2023.
- Effect of Intranasal vs. Intramuscular Naloxone on Opioid Overdose: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2755306. November 2019. Accessed 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