There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a devastating heroin epidemic. Every day, opioid overdoses are responsible for more than 130 deaths across America. These overdoses are destroying families and ravaging entire communities. They are ruthless and terrifying. Nobody is immune to these horrifying statistics, and people of all ages and demographics are affected.
But is heroin the only drug we should feel concerned about? What about maintenance drugs, like Suboxone? Are they effective, or are they just as addictive and dangerous? Let’s get into what you need to know.
The Potency of Heroin
Heroin is a synthetic opioid derived from morphine, which is a naturally occurring substance from opium plants. In 1874, Bayer synthesized heroin as a cough suppressant. It was also meant to be a “non-addictive” alternative to morphine- until medical professionals realized its rampant potential for misuse.
Heroin is a dangerous and powerful substance that can be habit-forming from just one or a few uses. Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, which releases a tremendous surge of chemicals. The high can create an intense sense of relaxation, pleasure, and even euphoria. Many people find themselves centering their entire lives on obtaining, using, and recovering from their heroin use. They resort to lying, manipulating, and stealing from loved ones- all in the name of achieving the high they desperately crave.
America’s relationship with opioids is complex, and many people do not start their opioid addiction with heroin. Prescription pain medication plays an integral role in addiction. For many years, prescriptions to painkillers, like Oxycodone and Percocet, were widely accessible. Many people received these substances for legitimate pain concerns.
Although these medications are legal, the risk for misuse is high. All opioids have the potential for tolerance and dependence. Many people with prescriptions take more than the prescribed amount. When they run out, they often feel desperate and terrified. Frightened by the prospects of entering withdrawal, some individuals turn to heroin for a cheaper, easier high.
That said, heroin creates an entire host of life-threatening problems. Most heroin today is “cut” with other substances like fentanyl or carfentanil, all of which have been ramping up overdose rates.
What Is Suboxone?
Suboxone is a prescription medication that contains the partial agonist, buprenorphine, and the full antagonist, naloxone. Buprenorphine can create a ‘high’ effect, though it tends to be weaker than heroin. Naloxone, on the other hand, blocks agonists from reaching and bonding to opioid brain receptors. This means that, if an individual uses other opioids while on Suboxone, they will not receive the same ‘high.’ Likewise, an injection can trigger withdrawal-like symptoms.
In its prescribed form, Suboxone treats opioid dependence. It can support people who wish to stop using heroin or other opioids.
Suboxone comes in a sublingual form, which means that it dissolves under the tongue within about a minute. It is available under many brand names including:
- Suboxone Film
Along with medications like methadone and naltrexone, Suboxone can be part of Medication-Assisted Treatment. However, it is important to recognize the inherent risks of this medication. Like other opioids, it can be habit-forming. Thus, it can cause its own potential for misuse and addiction.
For instance, many people take Suboxone without legitimate or valid prescriptions. Some people buy Suboxone when they cannot find heroin or other opioids. Others use it as a means of “at-home” detox.
The side effects of Suboxone may include:
- Mood swings
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms
- Body aches and muscle pain
Likewise, Suboxone can cause more serious side effects like severe stomach pain and long-term liver damage.
Suboxone Vs. Heroin: Trading One Opioid For Another?
Some professionals argue that Suboxone treatment simply “replaces” one problem for another. Because opioid dependence can be so life-threatening, these individuals may conclude that an abstinence-based approach is the best option. Others argue that compliance with Suboxone allows an individual to live a meaningful life free from illicit opioids. For example, The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies buprenorphine- along with methadone- as essential medicines.
Many people can and do live functioning lives complying with their Suboxone prescription. When taken as prescribed, the dosages are not intended to get people high. Individuals receiving such medication-assisted treatment often proclaim that they would not be able to stay off heroin successfully without Suboxone maintenance.
That said, there isn’t a perfect answer for one’s recovery. That’s because recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Instead, it’s far more nuanced and individualized. After all, each person has unique life circumstances and unique treatment needs. It is best to seek consultation via appropriate medical professionals.
Signs And Symptoms of Suboxone Addiction
It is not always obvious to tell if someone is addicted to Suboxone. Substance use disorders are shameful. People often take great lengths to conceal their struggles. They may become defensive when confronted, and they may also deny or minimize the severity of the problem.
However, it is essential to understand the telltale warning signs of opioid use disorder. They include:
- Spending more time, energy, and money to obtain the drug
- Withdrawing or isolating from friends and family
- Drastic changes in physical appearance
- Significant changes in sleep
- Mood swings
- Missing important commitments related to work or school
- Experiencing financial problems
- Loss of interest in typical activities and daily routine
Knowing the risk factors for addiction can help you understand you or a loved one’s condition. Because addiction can be sneaky and insidious, it is important to recognize that you may not always these symptoms right away.
Risk of Suboxone Overdose
People can and do overdose on Suboxone, especially if they misuse the drug. An overdose happens when the body cannot properly cope and metabolize the drug fast enough. Suboxone overdose effects include:
- Blurry vision
- Dizziness and coordination problems
- Slowed, shallowed, or discontinued breathing
- Small pupils
- Blue or purple lips or fingers
- Fainting or collapsing
Any of these symptoms require calling 911, as all overdoses can be life-threatening. If you suspect someone is overdosing on Suboxone, do not wait to seek medical attention. Time is often of the absolute essence. Even if someone survives the overdose, there could be long-term medical complications.
Treatment For Suboxone Addiction
Suboxone addiction can impede the quality of one’s life. Like all opioid use disorders, misuse of Suboxone can adversely influence one’s emotional, financial, and physical well-being. When left untreated, addiction often progresses. When someone becomes more tolerant of Suboxone, they spend more time, energy, and effort on using the substance. As a result, the likelihood for dangerous consequences increases.
Seeking appropriate treatment can help combat such addiction. Because the withdrawal process for opioids can be grueling, it is advised to seek medical detox as a first step. Most professionals advise against taking the at-home, cold-turkey approach when withdrawing from opioids. Detox provides comfort, stabilization, and 24/7 monitoring. You will be supported and safe during this process.
The length of medical detox varies on the intensity and frequency of Suboxone use, other physical and psychological issues, and the presence of other substances.
Suboxone withdrawal symptoms can be distressing and uncomfortable. Like other opioids, the detox process is not inherently fatal. However, medical supervision is critical during this time. Typical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Increased agitation and irritability
- Depression and anxiety
- Body aches and muscle pain
- Cold sweats and hot flashes
- High blood pressure
- Intensified muscle pain
- Heightened cravings for Suboxone or other opioids
- Appetite changes
- Sleep problems and fatigue
- Headaches and migraines
The first withdrawal symptoms can emerge just 6-12 hours after the last Suboxone dose. Physical symptoms tend to peak around 72 hours. They continue for about one week, and the aches and pains may be very apparent during this time. Most symptoms tend to dissipate within about two weeks, although mood swings and cravings can last for over a month.
After completing detox, it is best to consider professional substance use disorder treatment. In treatment, you will learn healthy coping skills and relapse prevention tips. You will also receive peer and professional support that can aid you on your journey.
Professional treatment may consist of individual and group psychotherapy, medication management, case management, and support with common issues related to housing arrangements, finances, legal problems, and family reunification.
Opioid addiction is a devastating phenomenon across America. While it is impossible to discern whether heroin and Suboxone are equally dangerous, they both do have inherent risks for catastrophic consequences. Likewise, both substances can compromise- and even deteriorate- your overall sense of self.
Treatment and recovery are possible. You can live a life free from addiction, and you can take that first step today! Contact us to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one.