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Is Suboxone a Narcotic?

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Dec 4, 2023 • 6 cited sources

Technically, Suboxone is a narcotic because it contains the opioid buprenorphine. But buprenorphine/naloxone is a Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) intended to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), so it’s not what most people think of when they hear the term narcotic.

When misused, buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) may have narcotic properties and cause a euphoric high. For this reason, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified Suboxone as a Schedule III controlled substance, which means it has a legitimate medical use but also a risk for misuse, dependence, and diversion. 

Is Suboxone a Narcotic?

What Are Narcotics?

“Narcotic” is not really a medical term, but more of a legal one. Narcotic, which comes from the Greek word for “stupor,” used to refer to any illegal substance that induces euphoria or a high. [1] 

In everyday language, the term narcotic often carries a negative association, meaning the drug is being taken illegally or not as prescribed. But now, the word refers to opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, prescription painkillers and buprenorphine/Suboxone.

The medical community tries not to use words like “narcotic” but instead use words like “opioid,” which denotes a specific class of drug that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and body.

Is Buprenorphine a Narcotic?

Yes. Buprenorphine is an opioid or a narcotic, so it works similarly to other opioids by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. However, it is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it still binds to opioid receptors, but the action is weaker than other opioids like heroin or fentanyl, therefore it is much less likely to produce a high.

Some people may attempt to misuse medications that contain buprenorphine, which is why it is a controlled substance. Suboxone is difficult to misuse because the naloxone sends the person into precipitated withdrawal. However, buprenorphine medications that don’t include naloxone may cause a high if misused. 

Is Suboxone a Controlled Substance?

Yes, due to the buprenorphine component, Suboxone is a controlled substance.

The government classifies Suboxone as a Schedule III controlled substance, which means it has a low to moderate potential for misuse and physical and psychological dependence. [2],[3]

As a Schedule III controlled substance, Suboxone cannot be accessed without a prescription. However, thanks to the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (MAT Act), which eliminated the X-Waiver, now any provider who is able to prescribe Schedule III controlled substances can write a prescription for Suboxone.

Can You Be Arrested for Having Suboxone on You?

If you have a valid prescription for Suboxone or any medication, there is no problem with having the substance on you. You are not doing anything illegal.

It is illegal to possess Suboxone or any buprenorphine product without a prescription. It is also illegal to possess Suboxone with the intent to sell it. You can be arrested in these instances.

If you are simply taking Suboxone for MAT and have a prescription, you will not be arrested for having it on you.

There is a push to decriminalize all forms of buprenorphine, allowing people greater access to MAT.[4]

Will Suboxone Show Up on a Drug Test?

Suboxone usually won’t show up on a routine drug test like those ordered for employment. Suboxone will only show up on a drug test if the test specifically looks for the presence of buprenorphine or its metabolites. [5] 

Some providers routinely order buprenorphine blood tests for patients on Suboxone to ensure that they are in fact taking it and not giving or selling it to others, which unfortunately does happen. 

Suboxone also will not trigger a false positive for other opioids on a drug test. It is safe to use while undergoing regular drug testing.

If you are concerned about routine drug testing at work or elsewhere while you take Suboxone, ask your MAT provider for a letter certifying that you are on MAT. Employers cannot discriminate against employees who are taking Suboxone with a valid prescription.

Suboxone Saves Lives

People with opioid use disorder who are not on MAT are at increased risk of overdose than those who take these medications.[6] 

When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is a lifesaving medication that can help you control your opioid use disorder and achieve long-term recovery.

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

Sources
  1. Narcotics (Opioids). United States Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Narcotics-2020.pdf. April 2020. Accessed July 2023.
  2. Suboxone (Buprenorphine and Naloxone) Sublingual Film CIII. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/media/79068/download. April 2014. Accessed April 2022.  
  3. Drug Scheduling. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling. Accessed April 2022.  
  4. Health Experts Push to Decriminalize Addiction Treatment Drug. VPR. https://www.vpr.org/vpr-news/2019-03-22/health-experts-push-to-decriminalize-addiction-treatment-drug. March 2019. Accessed April 2022.  
  5. Does Suboxone Show Up on a Drug Test? Drugs.com. https://www.drugs.com/medical-answers/suboxone-show-drug-test-3535355/. March 2022. Accessed April 2022. 
  6. Methadone and Buprenorphine Reduce Risk of Death After Opioid Overdose. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/methadone-buprenorphine-reduce-risk-death-after-opioid-overdose. June 2018. Accessed April 2022.

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