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How Long Does Suboxone Block Opioids?

As long as you continue taking Suboxone, it will block opioids.

When you take Suboxone as prescribed, this medication can block other opioids (including heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl) from binding to the opioid receptors in the brain for 24 hours on average, although the effects can last up to 60 hours in some people.[1]

The total time that Suboxone blocks opioids depends on the dose you take, which is determined by your physician when they set up Suboxone treatment for you.

How Suboxone Blocks Opioids

Suboxone is a combination of two drugs: buprenorphine, which is a partial opioid agonist, and naloxone, which temporarily stops opioid overdoses by kicking synthetic opioids off the opioid receptors in the brain.[2,3]

Suboxone itself is considered a “partial” opioid, in the opioid family of drugs. It binds preferentially to the same brain receptors as addictive opioids like heroin, fentanyl, codeine, and others.

When you take Suboxone as prescribed, buprenorphine fixes to the brain’s opioid receptors, suppressing withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings.[4] Since buprenorphine is not a full opioid agonist, it does not fully trigger the opioid receptors. This means that withdrawal symptoms are suppressed, but the medication does not cause euphoria or other intoxication as a full opioid agonist would.

Since buprenorphine is a long-lasting medication, it remains bound to these receptors for hours, blocking other opioids from being taken up by the brain.

Taking Suboxone as directed can suppress withdrawal symptoms, allowing you to focus on other important parts of your life, like the recovery process. This can help you to stop compulsive behaviors toward using drugs, rebuild relationships with loved ones, find meaningful work, etc.

What Happens if You Use Opioids With Suboxone in Your System?

In the event of a relapse, Suboxone should reduce the intensity of full opioid agonists like heroin, hydrocodone, or oxycodone, but this effect works up to a point. Warnings on the medication note that you should not take other drugs when you take Suboxone. This includes:

  • Other opioids.
  • Illicit drugs like marijuana.
  • Alcohol.
  • Prescription sedatives like Xanax or Valium (also known as “benzodiazepines”)

When taken as prescribed, you can’t overdose on Suboxone. Even if abused, the medication has virtually no overdose potential, which makes it safer than full opioid agonists like oxycodone, heroin or fentanyl.

Signs of Opioid Overdose

Signs of an opioid overdose include

  • Pinpoint pupils unresponsive to light changes.
  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Stumbling and being unaware of surroundings.
  • Slow, shallow, or irregular breathing.
  • Slowed or stopped breathing.
  • Pale skin with a bluish tint.
  • Passing out and becoming unresponsive.[5]

Suboxone is one of the most efficacious medications available to help people struggling with opioid use disorder.

It is possible to relapse back into substance abuse, even with Suboxone. Let your doctor or counselor know if you struggle with cravings and compulsive thoughts or behaviors toward drug so that your dose can be adjusted appropriately.

SOURCES

  1. How Long Does Suboxone Block Opiates? Drugs.com. https://www.drugs.com/medical-answers/long-suboxone-block-opiates-3536136/. April 2020. Accessed December 2021. 
  2. What Buprenorphine is and Why It is Important. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Archives. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/buprenorphine. Accessed December 2021. 
  3. Naloxone DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/naloxone. June 2021. Accessed December 2021. 
  4. What Is Buprenorphine? Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. May 2021. Accessed December 2021. 
  5. Buprenorphine Sublingual and Buccal (opioid dependence). MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605002.html. November 2021. Accessed December 2021.

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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