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Is Suboxone a narcotic?

Technically, Suboxone is a narcotic. When taken as prescribed by a medical provider, buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) should not cause euphoria or a high. When used illicitly or in excess, buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) may have narcotic properties.

What Are Narcotics?

Narcotic” is not really a medical term, but more of a legal one. A narcotic refers to an 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. In some context, the word “narcotic” has become synonymous with “opioid” even though this is not technically correct. Therefore, 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.

Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is an opioid, so it is a medication that works similarly to other opioids by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. However, Suboxone is considered a partial opioid, meaning that it still binds to opioid receptors, but not as potently as other opioids, therefore preventing the “high” that occurs with other opioids. 

As an opioid, Suboxone is technically a narcotic. But it’s a Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) intended for therapeutic use, so it’s not what most people think of when they hear the term narcotic.

How Does the Government Classify Suboxone?

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

Is Suboxone a Narcotic?

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 the drug for 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. 

SOURCES

  1. Narcotics (Opioids). United States Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.dea.gov/taxonomy/term/331. April 2022. Accessed April 2022.
  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.

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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