Subutex, also known as buprenorphine, is an FDA approved outpatient treatment for addiction to narcotics (opiates), such as Vicodin, Norco, Oxycontin, methadone, and morphine. It is used as part of the Gracer Behavioral Health Services program to prevent relapse, decreases withdrawal symptoms while getting off opiates, and in some specific circumstances to treat chronic pain.
How do narcotics cause addiction?
Endorphins are natural compounds which we all produce. They act as the body’s own ‘morphine’, or pain killer, and fill certain receptor sites in our brains. Under normal circumstances, there is an increase in endorphin production if we experience pain, or with exercise and pleasure. In fact when many receptor sites are filled, one may feel a “natural high.”
Opiates, such as methadone, oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), or fentanyl (Duragesic), cause addiction because they take over these receptor sites. They also cause an increase of the number of receptors that need to be filled to keep feeling comfortable. The brain no longer gets a message to produce more endorphins because the opiate occupied receptor sites create the false sense that there are enough. In time, the endorphin making mechanism shuts down and then more opiates are required for a person to feel comfortable.
If the supply opiates stops, the receptor sites rapidly become bare and the person starts feeling the symptoms of opiate withdrawal which include muscle and joint aches, tremors, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, severe anxiety, and insomnia. These sensations are extremely painful and most people will do almost anything to stop them. This is why drug addicts will steal, prostitute themselves, or even kill to get their “fix.”
Once a person stops taking opiates, the receptor sites will eventually empty and the body can begin to produce endorphins again and the system will get back into balance. This process usually takes a few days to at least start to normalize, but it can take weeks or even months to fully stabilize.
It’s possible to gradually reduce the opiate dose and allow a slow return to normalcy, but for many, this withdrawal is very uncomfortable or even unbearable. There are also those who either will never be able to produce enough endorphins to be comfortable or in whom the number of receptors is chronically increased. Many of these people will become drug seekers or will go back to using opiates when any stress, either physical or emotional, occurs. Stress or pain aggravates the opiate receptors, causing them to require increased stimulation (more drugs) for the person to be comfortable.
How does Subutex help stop opiate addiction?
Subutex is termed a partial agonist, or stimulator, for the opiate receptor. The opiates themselves are full agonists. A partial agonist occupies the receptor site, but only partially stimulates it. After a certain amount of subutex is present, adding more makes no difference and therefore taking more has no additional effect. This is called a “ceiling effect.”
Subutex eliminates withdrawal sensations and treats pain, but only to a certain extent. This is why it is so important that starting subutex be timed correctly. The first dose is almost always taken in the physician office so that any side effects can be handled correctly and safely. The first dose should be taken just as withdrawal starts-too early and acute withdrawal can be induced, too late causes needless suffering.
Subutex allows the endorphin process to slowly regenerate, although it is a slow process. For most people the buprenorphine dose can be slowly reduced.
But there are many individuals who will never completely regenerate their ability to make endorphins and for them it may be necessary to continue treatment indefinitely. Subutex is a far better alternative that the dangers of opiates and can help them lead normal lives.
Key Benefits of Subutex
- Reduces or eliminates the pain and suffering of withdrawal
- Relieves the cravings of opiates
- Helps people live normal lives
If you or someone you care about might be suffering from addiction problems , contact GMG Behavioral Health Services today for a confidential consultation.