Wasting Resources on Suboxone

Originally posted 1/26/2013

Readers of this blog know that I have often questioned whether there is any clinical difference between Suboxone and generic buprenorphine.  Naloxone is an opioid-blocking chemical added to buprenorphine, supposedly in order to reduce intravenous diversion of the medication.  The combination of buprenorphine plus naloxone is branded as Suboxone. I’ve pointed out over the years that the high affinity of buprenorphine at the opioid receptor is too great to be overcome by the amount of naloxone in a tablet or two of Suboxone, making naloxone unnecessary for anything except to create profits from Suboxone.

Because of the low number of doctors who obtain certification to prescribe buprenorphine and the limits on number of patients per doctor, many people who want treatment with buprenorphine are unable to find it.  While sitting on wait lists, some people opt to treat themselves with ‘street Suboxone, rather than continue to use oxycodone or heroin.

When taken through the proper sublingual route, about 25-33% of the buprenorphine in Suboxone reaches the bloodstream.  Because of the scarcity and high cost of Suboxone, patients who engage in self-treatment sometimes choose to inject the medication, since doing so reduces their costs by 70%.

Does Suboxone Cause SIDS?

Originally posted 1/13/2013

In a recent Google search about Suboxone and pregnancy, one of the top links included the frightening statement that Suboxone and buprenorphine have been linked to SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome, commonly called ‘crib death.’

The statement was from a health forum where a woman wrote about taking Suboxone during pregnancy.  She wrote that her child went through opioid withdrawal after delivery, recovered, and then died two months later from SIDS.  She then claims that her doctors told her that Suboxone was a possible reason for her child’s death.

Suboxone and SIDS?

I don’t know if the woman’s story is true. If it is, I hope my comments do not cause her pain, and I’m sorry for her loss.  But someone should comment on the information, given the number of young women on Suboxone who become pregnant and frantically search the internet for reassurance that their baby will be OK.  I know that pregnant women in my practice lose a great deal of sleep because of guilt over taking buprenorphine.  I am not a SIDS specialist, obstetrician, or pediatrician, and I do not actively follow the SIDS literature.  But I have done some reading to prepare for this post, and I’ll do my best to address the issue.

Suboxone Side Effects Pt. 2

Originally posted 1/2/2013

We can now leave naloxone out of the discussion, and focus on the side effects of Suboxone that are caused by buprenorphine.

Side effects are symptoms caused by a given medication that are not part of the therapeutic benefit of that medication.  Whether a symptom is a side effect depends on the reason for taking the medication.  For example, decreased intestinal motility is the desired effect of opioids used to treat diarrhea, but a bothersome side effect when taking opioids for pain.  The term ‘side effect’ is not on the package insert for medication, the symptoms and actions instead referred to as ‘adverse reactions.’  Package inserts also have a section entitled ‘warnings and precautions’ where the most dangerous adverse reactions are listed.

Some medications have a ‘black box warning’ for adverse reactions that are particularly common or particularly dangerous, consisting of a frightening statement at the start of the package insert (enclosed, naturally, by a black box). Black box warnings in psychiatry include the warning for increased suicidal ideation in children and adolescents treated with antidepressants, and the increased risk of death in people with dementia treated with atypical antipsychotics.

Questions and Answers about Opioid Dependence and Buprenorphine