Itchiness can be a side effect of opioid medications in general. Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is a partial opioid agonist, which means it has some opioid properties, including itchiness. If people are prone to itching from opioids, they will probably notice this when they take a full opioid agonist such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, or methadone or fentanyl. Compared to full opioid agonists, the itchiness of Suboxone is usually milder, as it is not as strong of an opioid as full opioid agonists.
Suboxone & Itching
Suboxone does not typically cause itching, particularly compared to full opioid agonists.  However, itchiness is a possible side effect for some patients. The itchiness can be from one of two causes. First, from a true allergic reaction to either buprenorphine or Naloxone (the two medications in Suboxone), but this is exceedingly rare.  The second is simply a side effect of opioid medications, which is more common.
Signs of an Allergic Reaction
Signs of an allergic reaction to Suboxone include the following:
- Skin rash, which may be itchy, red, swollen, blistered, and/or peeling
- Swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Tightness in the chest or throat
- Trouble talking or breathing
In rare cases, a person can have a serious allergic reaction to Suboxone called anaphylaxis. This can be life-threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency. If you’re unsure whether a reaction you’re having to Suboxone is serious, always call 911 and treat it as an emergency just to be safe.
We’ll note, however, that many people who do have a reaction to Suboxone may have a much milder one, with some itchiness and potentially a rash, but not so severe a reaction to be life-threatening. Even then, it’s important to talk to a doctor about why this is happening and potential solutions.
Are There Ways To Relieve the Suboxone Itch?
If itching from Suboxone is due to a true allergy, then it is probably not a medication that will work for you. However, this is exceedingly rare. The itchiness from a true allergic reaction is usually accompanied by a skin rash.
Conversely, the more common possible side effect of itchiness with any opioid medication is less serious, albeit annoying. It can be treated with topical steroids or antihistamine medications if it is bothersome or persistent.
You can also try some home remedies that may soothe at least some of your itching. Ensure that any home remedies will not interfere with prescribed treatments by talking to a medical professional first.
Some remedies recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology Association include the following:
- Apply cooling agents, such as menthol or calamine.
- Apply topical anesthetics that contain pramoxine.
- Apply a cold, wet cloth or ice pack to the skin that itches.
- Moisturize your skin with a moisturizer that is free of additives, fragrances, and perfumes.
- Take an oatmeal bath.
Most of the time, itchiness from Suboxone is mild. However, if it is persistent or severe, talk to your doctor about ways to treat it so that you can continue your Suboxone therapy.
- Suboxone. Indivior UK Limited. https://www.suboxone.com/. Accessed November 2022.
- New Clues Point to Relief for Chronic Itching. Washington University School of Medicine. https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/new-clues-point-to-relief-for-chronic-itching/. April 2018. Accessed November 2022.
- Buprenorphine for Pain. NHS UK. https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/buprenorphine-for-pain/. April 2020. Accessed November 2022.
- How to Relieve Itchy Skin. American Academy of Dermatology Association. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-itchy-skin. Accessed November 2022.
By: Dylan Kakos, PharmD
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