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What Is Suboxone?


Updated May 06, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Image of suboxone pills with bottle

Suboxone pills with bottle

Image (c) Addiction2020 / Flickr

Suboxone is a prescription medication that can help treat heroin addiction and dependence on other opiates. Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine, which can be used as a stand-alone treatment for opiate dependence, and naloxone, which is used to treat opiate overdose.

By combining buprenorphine and naloxone in a single tablet, Suboxone relieves heroin withdrawal and acts as a deterrent to injecting. The buprenorphine ingredient provides relief from opiate withdrawal symptoms and cravings by acting on the brain’s opiate receptors, without producing the same intense high or dangerous side effects typical of opioid drugs. And the addition of naloxone, when combined with buprenorphine, produces severe withdrawal symptoms when injected, but not when taken sublingually (under the tongue).

Suboxone eases the process of overcoming heroin addiction from several standpoints. Physiologically, it makes the withdrawal period more comfortable and it reduces cravings. But it also acts as a deterrent to injecting drugs, because of the unpleasant symptoms that are produced.

Suboxone appears to work better when used for a longer duration. In one study, a group of opiate-dependent young people in detox who took Suboxone for 12 weeks was significantly more likely to maintain abstinence from opiates than another group that was prescribed the drug just for the initial two-week detox.

If you are interested in exploring the use of Suboxone or another medication to help you cope with heroin or other opiate withdrawal, talk to your doctor.


Miller, W. and Carroll, K. (Editors). Rethinking Substance Abuse. New York: Guilford. 2006.

Woody, G. MD, et al. Extended vs Short-term Buprenorphine-Naloxone for Treatment of Opioid-Addicted Youth: A Randomized Trial. JAMA 300:2003-2011. 2008.

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