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The Dangers of Snorting, Smoking or Injecting Suboxone® (Buprenorphine Insufflation)

by Nick

The medication buprenorphine and its compound prescription medication Suboxone are highly effective and popularly used in programs based on medication-assisted treatment (MAT). People about to initiate MAT with these medications rightly have questions about addictive potential and whether it’s possible to abuse the medications. Understanding what happens when someone snorts, smokes or injects Suboxone will give you a better understanding of how it functions in treatment and assists with sustaining recovery.

what is suboxone treatment for

What Is Suboxone® Treatment For?

Suboxone is a brand name medication prescribed to people who are addicted to opioids, whether they are illicit or obtained legally through a doctor’s prescription. Suboxone contains the compounds buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that binds to and blocks opioid receptors. It helps reduce a person’s opioid cravings by producing low-grade opioid effects that satisfy the brain’s need for opioids. When taken as prescribed by someone with an opioid dependency, buprenorphine does not produce a high. However, it does have some potential for abuse.

The FDA discontinued Suboxone’s predecessor, Subutex, due to concerns about misuse of the medication. Suboxone is a new and improved form of buprenorphine, thanks to the addition of naloxone. When used on its own, naloxone stops and reverses overdoses from opioids. In combination with buprenorphine, naloxone acts as an abuse deterrent by immediately producing extremely unpleasant effects.

Suboxone is designed to help people manage the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal that often prevent people from participating fully in treatment. It stabilizes patients so they can effectively engage in other parts of a comprehensive treatment program such as counseling and group therapy.

Dangers of Snorting, Smoking or Injecting a Drug Like Suboxone®

Because medications in MAT are a form of opioids themselves, they do have a potential for abuse by those determined enough to misuse them. There are three primary ways someone might attempt to abuse Suboxone.

Can Users Smoke Suboxone®?

Suboxone’s manufacturer voluntarily stopped making it in pill form in 2012. Before its discontinuation, people could abuse this form of Suboxone like any other pill. Those intending to abuse the tablet could successfully smoke it. However, smoking Suboxone does not lead to a high.

It’s also possible to vaporize Suboxone sublingual films, the currently available form of the medication.

Can Users Snort Suboxone®?

It’s not possible to snort Suboxone in its sublingual film form. In the past, people could crush the tablets and inhale them to produce a high they could not get from ingesting the tablet normally. However, the addition of naloxone makes this form of abuse counterproductive, as the person snorting Suboxone will immediately begin experiencing withdrawal.

Can Users Inject Suboxone®?

It is possible to inject Suboxone. Some people assume injecting the medication will create better availability and allow them to get some of the high they are looking for. This idea comes from the fact that injecting opioids of abuse like heroin is the fastest way to get the most concentrated effect. However, Suboxone injection will cause the immediate onset of withdrawal symptoms and will NOT produce a euphoric effect.

effects of abusing suboxone

The Effects of Abusing Suboxone

For many people struggling with opioid addiction, drug abuse becomes a way of avoiding painful symptoms rather than experiencing any real pleasure. Long-term drug abuse leads to the development of tolerance, a state in which someone needs to take more and more of a substance to experience the desired effect. Tolerance can develop quickly into dependence.

Dependence happens when the brain adapts to the frequent presence of drugs. The adjustments the brain makes to drug exposure result in physiological reactions known as withdrawal. For opioids, symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Excess tear formation
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep
  • Runny nose
  • Heavy sweating
  • Yawning

Later-stage symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Can I Take Suboxone® With Alcohol?

Those who attempt to abuse MAT medications like Suboxone are likely to combine it with other substances such as alcohol. Suboxone mixed with alcohol can produce severe, unintended side effects that are more severe than Suboxone can produce on its own. These side effects include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting and constipation
  • Headaches, blurry vision, fainting or dizziness
  • Increased sweat production
  • Heart palpitations or changes in blood pressure
  • Impaired coordination and cognition
  • Impaired response times

The combination of Suboxone and alcohol puts great strain on the body, worsening symptoms of the Suboxone abuse itself as well as the effects of the interaction between the two substances.

What Is Buprenorphine Insufflation?

Insufflation is a term for snorting a substance. While users cannot snort Suboxone films, they could inhale other branded buprenorphine compound medications. In addition to the extreme withdrawal discomfort associated with abusing medications containing naloxone, buprenorphine insufflation can have severe physical effects similar to those of snorting cocaine, such as:

  • Damage to the interior of the nose and nasal septum
  • Frequent and increasing headaches
  • Persistent and recurring nasal infections
  • involuntary tremors or shaking
  • Tightness of the chest

Opioid overdoses become fatal due to the extreme respiratory depression produced. Snorting any drug, including buprenorphine, has the potential to cause serious damage to the respiratory system that may lower the threshold of opioid abuse required to induce a fatal overdose.

How Can I Learn More About Suboxone® Treatment?

If you or someone you care about is wrestling with opioid abuse or addiction, finding effective treatment can be lifesaving. MAT with buprenorphine is a time-tested and proven method of initiating a successful recovery. Health Care Resource Centers (HCRC) have been providing dedicated treatment for people with opioid use disorders since 1989, and we have multiple locations throughout New England to serve you or your loved one. HCRC offers patients:

  • Medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine
  • Counseling
  • Case management
  • Referrals to local recovery resources

Treatment with Suboxone can change the life of someone addicted to opioids. With the deterrent power of naloxone, Suboxone is an appropriate choice for those who have experienced multiple relapses or are concerned that they may relapse some time in the future.

To learn more about HCRC’s addiction treatment programs, don’t hesitate to reach out and bring your questions to our attentive representatives. Call anytime at 866-758-7769, or get in touch via our online contact form to learn more about where change begins.

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