Suboxone is used in the treatment of addiction to heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers.
The medication’s primary active ingredient is buprenorphine – a partial opioid agonist drug that acts as a sort of replacement to more dangerous drugs like heroin and oxycodone – and it also contains naloxone. Suboxone also contains naloxone, an opioid antagonist that counteracts the attachment of opioids to receptors. Some people attempt to take larger amounts of the drug to get high from it. Euphoria may result, but it can also send the user plummeting into withdrawal.
While Suboxone is only available by prescription in its oral tablet form, there are many ways around this. It is certainly no stranger to the street market. Most who are abusing this drug are buying it from street dealers – 90 percent according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – to inhibit withdrawal. Furthermore, many individuals who abuse the drug will crush the tablets to facilitate other forms of ingestion. Snorting is common, as is injection, which can increase the risk of withdrawal and overdose.
Many people who take Suboxone have concerns about how long it sticks around afterward. While a lot of people buy and abuse Suboxone, some receive it as part of a treatment program and continue to take the drug long after they’ve stopped abusing the illicit substances they started Suboxone treatment for in the first place.
A drug’s half-life is simply the length of time it takes from the point of ingestion until half of the dose has left the body. The half-life for buprenorphine averages around 37 hours, per Mental Health Daily. Compared to other substances, this is a pretty long time. It takes longer for Suboxone to dissipate because withdrawal doesn’t even start to take effect until a few days after ingestion of the drug has ceased.
Suboxone can be detected through drug screening tests via blood, urine, or hair samples. RxList notes a half-life of 24-42 hours in the bloodstream for buprenorphine and just 2-12 hours for naloxone. Typical doses of buprenorphine are detectable in the urine for three days. A Drug Testing and Analysis publication notes buprenorphine and nor-buprenorphine – the former’s major metabolite – were both present in hair samples from individuals who were taking Suboxone as a treatment for heroin addiction, with a 0.5 mean concentration ratio.
In sum, half of a dose of Suboxone will typically exit a person’s system 20-73 hours after ingestion. It will take up to twice as long for the drug to be completely excreted.
Body Composition and Interference
Drug metabolism also varies from one person to the next and can impact how quickly an individual naturally detoxes from a substance, or how quickly the kidneys and liver can process the drug and the body can then excrete it. Individuals with slower metabolisms may take longer than what the half-life suggests, while those with faster metabolisms may detox from the drug more quickly. Thus, there are always exceptions. Furthermore, how much an individual weighs also plays a significant role in detoxing a drug like Suboxone.
The presence of other substances in the system can also impact how fast or slow the body rids itself of Suboxone. This can be concerning for individuals who abuse more than one substance, which is common. It is particularly common among people who abuse opioids, which are often abused alongside benzodiazepines or alcohol. The Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence reported 67 percent of French people in buprenorphine-based treatment plans had used benzodiazepines at some point in their lives, and 54 percent had within the month prior to being surveyed.
Suboxone abuse and addiction are manageable. Though it is a treatment drug, the recovery process for abuse of or addiction to Suboxone is the same as it is for other substances of abuse. As with all addictions, treatment should include medical detox and comprehensive therapy.