While Suboxone is safe to use and an effective part of treatment programs for opioid use disorder (OUD), it does sometimes cause side effects.
What Is Suboxone Used For?
Suboxone is a combination of the drug buprenorphine and naloxone, typically used as a treatment for opioid use disorder, also referred to as opioid addiction.
Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist, acting on opioid receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors that full opioid agonists, like heroin, act on, and this action can help block a person’s cravings for those drugs and reduce their withdrawal symptoms.
When combined with a comprehensive treatment plan that includes other treatments, such as traditional therapy, Suboxone and medications like it can be an effective tool in addressing addiction.
Common Side Effects
Suboxone is generally considered safe when taken as prescribed, but it can still cause several side effects, including these:
- Dry mouth
- Muscle cramps and aches
- Tooth decay
- Erectile dysfunction
These symptoms affect the vast minority of patients. If they do occur, many of them are temporary and resolve quickly once the body gets used to the medication. If they don’t go away or seriously impact your quality of life, talk to a doctor about your options.
Rare Side Effects of Suboxone
Suboxone can also sometimes cause more serious side effects that, while rare, warrant medical attention, such as an allergic reaction. Signs of a potentially serious problem include the following:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
- Severe nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Hives, itches, or rash
- Problems breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the throat, face, tongue, feet, ankles, feet, lower legs, or hands
- Slurred speech
Almost any medication can potentially cause a severe allergic reaction, and a Suboxone allergy is possible, but again, extremely unlikely. Any of the above symptoms warrant seeing a doctor immediately. If you experience any symptom that has you concerned or otherwise seems serious, talk to your doctor. It is better to contact a doctor when it may have not been necessary than to not get treated for a side effect that was more serious than it first seemed.
One alternative treatment to Suboxone and other buprenorphine-based medications is methadone. This is a long-acting opioid shown to help reduce opioid cravings when used properly.
While methadone is a true full opioid agonist and does have significant abuse and addiction potential when misused, this doesn’t mean it can’t help a person with addiction when used correctly. Like buprenorphine, the use of methadone is supported by available evidence and regarded as effective by the medical community, even if it has risks not typical of medications like Suboxone.
At present, methadone can only be administered at specialized sites, making it very difficult to misuse when prescribed even if a patient wanted to. Even this measure is controversial, with some saying it unnecessarily limits access to methadone.
The third FDA approved medication for OUD aside from Methadone and Suboxone is called Naltrexone, which is actually an opioid antagonist. This medication can be given by mouth orally once a day or by a monthly injection called Vivtrol.
What to Do if You Experience Suboxone Side Effects
If you experience any side effect that seems serious or has been long-lasting, contact the doctor who prescribed your medication and tell them what you have been experiencing. They can often help by adjusting your dose or potentially offering some other solution to reduce side effects associated with your medication.
If you experience any of the rarer side effects associated with Suboxone or are experiencing any symptom that seems like it may be life-threatening, call 911. If you’re ever unsure how serious a particular side effect is and whether it warrants calling 911, call 911 rather than waiting to see if it gets worse.
- Buprenorphine Sublingual and Buccal (Opioid Dependence). National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605002.html. January 2022. Accessed October 2022.
- Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. September 2022. Accessed October 2022.
- Methadone. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682134.html. February 2021. Accessed October 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 ... Read More
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