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What’s the difference between short term use of Suboxone (a short taper) and long-term treatment?

While short-term use of buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is a way to quickly detox/come off opioids, this is not recommended. Staying on long-term evidence-based medication for addiction treatment (MAT) with Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is recommended to support a life in recovery.

A short taper of buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is basically a detox program. This means that patients who have become addicted to opioids (like oxycodone/Percocet, hydrocodone/Vicodin, hydromorphone/Dilaudid, methadone, heroin, or fentanyl) can be slowly taken off these medications over 3-5 days while using buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) to minimize opioid withdrawal side effects. However, this short-term taper is NOT recommended. Studies have shown that patients who are detoxed off opioids and who have NOT started on long-term medication for addiction treatment (MAT) have high relapse rates and hence high risk of overdose and death.

Research DOES show that continuous, long-term use of medication for addiction treatment (MAT) with buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone), methadone, or naltrexone (Vivitrol) is safe and effective. Taking buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) daily allows continual coverage of the opioid receptors to prevent withdrawal and craving and block the receptors from other opioids which cause overdose and death. When buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) is taken regularly and in conjunction with behavioral health supports, patients have an optimal chance of engaging in long-term recovery and meeting their treatment goals.

Rebekah L. Rollston, MD, MPH

Dr. Rollston is a Family Medicine Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, Affiliate Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Primary Care Blog, and Founder of Doctors For A Healthy US, LLC. She earned her Medical Degree from East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine and her Master of Public Health from The George Washington University. Her professional interests focus on social influencers of health & health disparities, addiction medicine, sexual & reproductive health, homelessness & supportive housing, and rural health.

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