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How to Stop Opioid Itch

Chronic itching can be a side effect of opioid use. The best way to stop an opioid itch is to stop using opioids. If you are struggling to quit opioids, medications like Suboxone can help.

Suboxone is a partial opioid itself and can, like other opioids, also sometimes cause itching. If you develop itching while using Suboxone, your doctor may adjust your dose or try a different medication to help you with OUD.

Why Do Opioids Cause Itching?

Researchers aren’t sure why opioids make people itch.[1] They know that the drugs interact with receptors along the spinal cord and skin, and it’s possible those connections trigger nerve pain we interpret as an itch.

Some researchers note that opioids cause blood vessels to dilate, and some people develop reddened skin.[2] Those changes indicate histamines are released, and these chemicals might be associated with itching.

What Can You Do About Opioid Itch?

Some people with opioid itch benefit from over-the-counter antihistamine medications. But many people find the itch stays with them no matter the medications they try.

Researchers are examining the medication nalfurafine hydrochloride, which targets cells inside the spinal cord.[3] Preliminary studies suggest that it’s very helpful for people with chronic itch problems. But it’s not yet widely available in the United States.

The best treatment for opioid related itching at this time is to discontinue opioids. However, this is much easier said than done, particularly if you have a dependence on opioid medications.

If you are trying to discontinue opioid use, MAT therapies like buprenorphine are less likely to cause itch than other opioids, and might be a good choice for you. Talk to your doctor about starting Suboxone for OUD.


  1. Central Opioid Receptors Mediate Morphine-Induced Itch and Chronic Itch via Disinhibition. Brain. December 2020. Accessed September 2022.
  2. Opioid-Induced Itching. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. January 1999. Accessed September 2022. 
  3. New Clues Point to Relief for Chronic Itching. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. April 2018. Accessed September 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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