What are Buprenorphine and Naloxone?
August 9, 2019
Buprenorphine and naloxone are two medications that are commonly used when treating people with opioid use disorder. Each medication has its own benefits for those in recovery from opioid addiction or who are overdosing from opioids, and when combined, the two medications work together to help individuals achieve much-needed stability in their recovery.
Buprenorphine is a prescription medication that is opioid-based. It contains thebaine, which is an opioid property found within opium. It was first developed in the 1970s as a safer means of treating pain (as opposed to morphine, which is highly potent and extremely addictive).
By the 1980s, some buprenorphine-based medications hit the market, but it wasn’t until 2002 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for the treatment of opioid use disorder that it became hugely popular.
Since 2002, buprenorphine has been a staple in addiction treatment facilities across the U.S. It is available under common brand names such as Subutex, Suboxone, Bunavail, Butrans, and Probuphine, to name a few. Buprenorphine was, and continues to be, known as the gold standard of opioid addiction treatment for the benefits it provides those in recovery.
How does buprenorphine work?
When someone is dependent on opioids, his or her mind and body become wholly reliant on them. Without them, the mind and body struggle to function, causing withdrawal symptoms. A person can remedy their withdrawal symptoms by continuing to use, which is extremely dangerous and deadly. He or she can also get relief from these symptoms by completely detoxing from opioids, which is best done in the care of professionals. This is where buprenorphine comes in.
Someone who is no longer abusing opioids and who starts taking buprenorphine as a means of treatment will not experience as severe of a withdrawal as he or she would have if buprenorphine was not in the picture. This is because buprenorphine interacts with the same opioid receptors in the brain that other opioids do, so, when consumed, buprenorphine binds to those receptors to minimize symptoms and cravings.
Individuals can take buprenorphine as directed and not get the same sensations of euphoria and relaxation as they do when abusing other opioids
If you are taking buprenorphine as a part of a Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) plan, you must only take the amount prescribed to you each time. Even though buprenorphine has a “ceiling effect” (meaning that, the more the dose increases, the more the effects of the medication decrease), buprenorphine can become habit-forming when abused. Plus, abusing any other opioid while on buprenorphine can increase your risk of respiratory depression and overdose.
Your provider will recommend the length of time that you stay on buprenorphine. You should not stop taking this medication on your own or miss doses, as doing so puts you at risk for relapse. Buprenorphine should only be taken in the form it is prescribed, meaning that a pill should be swallowed or a dissolvable strip should be dissolved in the mouth. Oral buprenorphine should never be injected, as it can cause withdrawal symptoms and increase your risk for overdose.
It is important that you inform all of your healthcare providers that you are taking buprenorphine, as it can negatively interact with other medications. Being honest about your medications can help you stay sober and in control.
Naloxone has quickly become a popular medication throughout the U.S., due of the severity of the opioid crisis. This medication is capable of reversing the effects of opioids, which can be lifesaving for someone who is overdosing on opioids.
Sold under the brand name Narcan, Naloxone can be administered intranasally or intravenously. It is important to note that while naloxone can stop an opioid overdose from becoming fatal, it does not work for every overdose. A number of factors come into play when it comes to the effectiveness of naloxone, with the number one factor being timing.
Naloxone can be administered whenever an opioid overdose is suspected, but it has to be given in time to reverse the effects of the opioids. Also, when someone has abused an excessive amount of opioids, naloxone may not be able to be effective even if it is given in time due to the high level of opioids in the system.
How does naloxone work?
Naloxone is a pure opioid antagonist. This means that when someone has naloxone in their system, the effects of opioids are blocked. Naloxone binds itself to the brain’s opioid receptors so that the effects opioids can trigger are not able to be triggered.
For instance, if someone has naloxone in their system and then they try to shoot heroin, they will not be able to get high. Conversely, if someone has opioids in their system and they then take naloxone, the desired effects already occurring due to the opioids will cease.
Naloxone comes on its own, but it is also often combined with buprenorphine. The mixture of these two medications is known as Suboxone. Since Suboxone contains buprenorphine, an opioid, the naloxone in this medication works to prevent misuse.
The naloxone found in Suboxone is not 100 percent effective in stopping someone from getting high. It works more as a deterrent, and requires higher doses of Suboxone and other opioids to achieve a high.
Naloxone in America
Naloxone, as mentioned before, has become an opioid overdose treatment staple. First responders of all stripes carry naloxone and are trained in how to administer it in the event of overdose. People who are at risk for overdose, such as those who are prescribed painkillers, are also often prescribed naloxone. Today, states that have enacted laws that make naloxone more accessible have seen a 9 to 11 percent reduction in opioid overdoses.
This medication continues to be made more accessible to Americans in the hopes of saving the lives of those in recovery.
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