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Understanding Suboxone Therapy for Opioid Use Disorder

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Sep 19, 2023 • 6 cited sources

Suboxone is a combination buprenorphine/naloxone medication used as a Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD). Suboxone is dispensed as a sublingual film or tablet from a certified buprenorphine provider.[1] 

Suboxone therapy is best when used as part of a complete opioid use disorder treatment program that includes psychosocial support, such as behavioral therapies and peer support groups. You can receive Suboxone therapy in a variety of settings, including through online addiction counseling providers.

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is a form of MAT for the treatment of opioid addiction, also called opioid use disorder (OUD). It uses medication as part of a comprehensive OUD treatment program that optimally also includes behavioral therapies, group and individual counseling, and peer support groups. 

Suboxone can be used on a long-term basis as a maintenance medication to sustain recovery. This medication is used to help control opioid cravings and manage opioid withdrawal symptoms both during acute withdrawal and into ongoing recovery.

Why is Naloxone Included as an Ingredient in Suboxone? 

The naloxone component of Suboxone is an opioid antagonist medication that works as an abuse-deterrent. It remains dormant and does not activate unless the medication is misused by injection. If injected, the Naloxone is activated and prevents overdose from the Buprenorphine. In this way, it serves as a safety mechanism to deter individuals from misusing the medication by injecting it. 

Suboxone Uses

Suboxone is used as part of a complete OUD treatment program in an inpatient or outpatient setting. 

It can also be used as a maintenance medication to minimize the risk of relapse. Relapse rates for opioid use disorders are high, between 40% and 60%. Suboxone can help to manage cravings and opioid withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.[2] 

Buprenorphine, the active substance in Suboxone, is a partial opioid agonist. It works by partially triggering the opioid receptors in the brain to keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms to a minimum. Simultaneously, as a partial opioid agonist, buprenorphine does not create the same euphoric “high” that full opioid agonists like heroin and prescription narcotic painkillers. In this way, it is safer than full opioid agonists, and has been proven time and time again to reduce the rates of overdose from full opioid agonists. 

What Suboxone Therapy Entails

Suboxone is dispensed as a sublingual film, generally once per day, although some individuals may take it up to three times a day. 

Your Suboxone will be prescribed by a qualified buprenorphine provider and picked up at your local pharmacy of choice. Suboxone therapy can also be provided through telemedicine and online addiction treatment programs if you are unable to see a provider in person. 

You can take Suboxone as long as needed to manage opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is considered safe to take long term, and some people even take it indefinitely. 

Effectiveness of Suboxone Treatment

Especially when used as part of a complete treatment program that includes behavioral therapy and counseling, Suboxone therapy and MAT are extremely effective for opioid use disorder.[3] 

Buprenorphine treatment can help to maintain treatment compliance at nearly double the rates of those not taking it. It can also boost treatment success rates by as much as 75%.[4] 

Buprenorphine used as part of an MAT program for opioid addiction can lower the rates of HIV and hepatitis C transmission as well as reduce the potential for a fatal opioid overdose and improve overall quality of life.[5] 

Buprenorphine binds to opioid receptors more strongly in the brain than many full opioid agonists, such as heroin and methadone, so it will blunt the effects of these opioid drugs if Suboxone is in the system. This can lower the risk of a fatal outcome from opioid overdose.

Taking Suboxone can have the following benefits:

  • Lower relapse rates
  • Better treatment compliance
  • Minimize risk for fatal opioid overdose
  • Reduced illicit opioid use

Costs of Suboxone Therapy

Insurance will typically cover the cost of Suboxone. In some cases, you may need prior authorization from your insurance company before your doctor can prescribe Suboxone and have it covered. Other times, insurance will only cover the generic version of a buprenorphine/naloxone medication or tablets instead of film strips. 

You may be charged a copay based on your insurance plan and coverage. Medicare and Medicaid generally cover Suboxone therapy as well.

If you do not have insurance or your insurance plan does not cover Suboxone, the out-of-pocket price can range between $168 and close to $600 for a monthly supply. You can save money on generic formulations of the combination medication or through coupons and discounts, such as those offered on GoodRx for free.[6] 

Suboxone can be a lifesaving medication that can offer patients a higher quality of life. It’s worth it to talk to your doctor or an addiction treatment provider about what it can do for you.

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

  1. Suboxone. Indivior, PLC. 2022. Accessed September 2022.
  2. Treatment and Recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse. July 2020. Accessed September 2022
  3. Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 2016. Accessed September 2022.
  4. How Effective Are Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder? National Institute on Drug Abuse. December 2021. Accessed September 2022.
  5. Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. The Ochsner Journal. Spring 2018. Accessed September 2022.
  6. GoodRX Care. GoodRx, Inc. 2022. Accessed September 2022.

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