From a person new to suboxone:
This is my, well, second day off opiates seeing it is 12:05am where I am. I had a 11 year on and off love affair with opiates. It got worse in the last 6-12 months or so. That feeling of euphoria really gets you and when you don’t have your pills you feel like you are going to die, literally!! I woke up this morning with no more pills. OH BOY was I sick… I found a list of docs who detoxed using subutex and/or suboxone… He did a patient and family history on me… He wrote me a script for six 2mg/0.5 suboxone. His instructions were take two under my tongue immediately… The taste was disguisting. I just took my second 2 and am cringing because of the taste… After 30-60 minutes, I felt wonderful… I was surprised he started me off at 2 and not 8mgs. The 2mgs do just fine. What is funny is that the euphoria you get from opiates, I am getting from this drug. I read up everything possible on the internet about this drug and it is supposed to be the best drug for opiate users. I have been posting a lot and hope you do not mind. I understand addiction and how hard it is so I want to help people. I am just starting my recovery and have a long road ahead, I know this but if more people know about SUB, there would be less addicts. I am making it clear to everyone that you absolutely cannot take any op’s while on Sub. Apparently you will get the worse side effects imaginable…
I deleted the parts that are identifiable or more specific to the individual than necessary here.
Some comments: As for the taste, there are some little tricks that will make suboxone more palatable; try chewing an altoid or another strong mint right before taking the suboxone, you can also try holding an ice cube in your mouth for 5 minutes first, spitting that out, and then taking the suboxone. Just be sure to start the suboxone dose without saliva or water in your mouth– you will produce saliva while you are dosing, and you want a high concentration of buprenorphine in the saliva, which means you want a low volume of liquid. Other people have used listerine strips. Finally, subutex has a different taste– it is bitter, but not ‘fruity’, and some people like it better. It is, though, significantly more expensive. Contrary to misconception out there, you do NOT need the naloxone to get the ‘blockade’ effect at opiate receptors. Subutex has an identical action in almost all patients– the exception being perhaps people who have had a gastric bypass or who have a (very unusual) allergy to naloxone.
For best results start with a ‘dry’ mouth, bite the suboxone with your front teeth to crush it and dissolve it immediately upon putting it in your mouth, then use your tongue to spread the the concentrated, dissolved medication over all surface areas inside your mouth. A couple points: the intact tablet is not doing anything, so holding it under the tongue takes needless time– get it dissolved right away. Second, there is nothing special about the area under your tongue; the medication will get absorbed from all surfaces inside the mouth, so use as much surface area as possible to increase absorption and speed the process. Third, after dosing for 5-10 minutes you can either swallow the saliva or spit it out– if the bitter taste really bothers you, perhaps spitting it out is the better option (also a better option for the rare individual who seems to get headaches from the naloxone in suboxone). Finally, do not drink anything or rinse your mouth with liquid for at least 15 minutes after dosing, as that will remove some of the buprenorphine that you are trying to absorb.
Euphoria… the initial effect of taking buprenorphine will depend to an extent on the individual’s degree of tolerance. A person taking over 80-100 mg of oxycodone per day who waits 24 hours to have moderate withdrawal, and then takes suboxone, will probably feel relief from the withdrawal, but will not feel much of an ‘opiate’ effect. On the other hand a person taking 5 vicodin per day (which contains hydrocodone, a weaker opiate) who waits 24 hours and then takes suboxone will likely have euphoria and other opiate effects– because the ‘opiate agonist’ activity of buprenorphine is stronger than what the person is used to or ‘tolerant’ to. In either case, the person’s opiate receptors will adjust fairly quickly to the potency of buprenorphine, and after a few days both patients will feel ‘normal’ after taking buprenorphine– no withdrawal, no euphoria. That is what makes it such a popular treatment– patients who take it regularly feel ‘normal’. In fact, many people experience life without the constant craving for opiates for the first time in years, and for the first time in years feel like a person who is not an opiate addict.
This leads to a much broader issue that I have talked about before– an issue that is more controversial: what other things should be required of patients taking suboxone? I have heard ‘second hand’ that Dr Miller, the President of ASAM, the American Society for Addiction Medicine, takes the approach that patients on Suboxone should be sober from all other intoxicants and attending group treatment and 12 step programs. I am in agreement on the ‘total sobriety’ issue but not with the second part, for a couple of reasons. Elsewhere in this blog I theorize a bit on the issue of Suboxone and 12-step attendance (I also discuss the issue here: http://fdlpsychiatry.com/subox.info/suboxandrecovery.pdf) but I have some practical concerns as well. First, ‘recovery’ is all about ‘rigorous honesty’, and yet if a person is honest about taking suboxone at an NA meeting he/she will end up being confronted and harassed– so patients are told to be honest about everything except suboxone use– and that is a problem because we are then reinforcing one of the things the addict has been doing for years– hiding the use of an opiate. Second, people on suboxone are different from people who are not on suboxone– they don’t have the constant awareness of the desire for opiates (or the unconscious drive for opiates manifest as irritability), and have an entirely different subjective experience. They don’t ‘feel’ like opiate addicts. Yes, they are still opiate addicts– don’t get me wrong on that. But they don’t feel the same way. And so I don’t know if a 12 step meeting will do anything for them. I know that to buy into recovery a person has to be desperate; not because there is anything wrong with the 12 step message as I think it is a great, universal approach to life that benefits everyone lucky enough to ‘get it’. But to adopt the 12-step way of living, of seeing the world, a person has to change. And change is very, very hard, and very rare. I remember my own first experience with the twelve steps: sick with withdrawal I wandered into a mall bookstore, found a book about AA, and read through the 12 steps. I concentrated for a few minutes, and considered what they said. Later that day, after using, I thought… ‘that didn’t work’. I’m trying to be a bit funny, but my point is that many people think that ‘recovery’ consists of intense education. Those people are eventually frustrated in treatment, as they think they are ‘getting it’ and yet their counselors and peers keep telling them that they are not getting it. In reality, treatment through a 12 step approach requires a deep change of attitude that is very difficult to come by. I like the saying ‘insight maketh a bloody entrance’. True change usually requires a significant period of distress– a rock bottom, a depression, a great deal of personal turmoil… another comment frequently heard in treatment is ‘crisis equals opportunity’, or ‘the Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as for opportunity’– something that I suspect is not actually true, but I could be wrong.
Wow. I talk too much. OK… practical problems to requiring 12 step attendance… My point (in case you zoned out) was that sitting through 12 step meetings, while not in the middle of a personal crisis at least at the start of 12 step exposure, may be a total waste of time. Ditto for attending ‘recovery group therapy’. Those things work for one type of treatment, and I see little reason why they would be helpful for people on Suboxone. An analogy… (wish me luck)… people with hyperthyroidism sometimes have the thyroid gland surgically removed; other times the thyroid is destroyed by taking radioactive iodine. If a person has had the entire thyroid removed, it makes little sense to then make them take radioactive iodine. Wow… that isn’t bad…
On the other hand… people with thyroid cancer have their thyroid surgically removed and then take radioactive iodine just in case some thyroid tumor cells were left behind. Given that opiate addiction is a fatal illness– at least as fatal as any cancer– maybe the more done, the better. I will say that anyone who is on Suboxone who is attending NA or AA or who wants to attend, and who can deal with the privacy issue of taking Suboxone, GREAT! If you can ‘get it’– if you can truly understand your powerlessness over substances and turn your life over to your ‘Higher Power’– you will be better off for doing so. You will also be in the position to get off of suboxone at some point.
I had better close, but will add one last thing. I will save the ‘dosing’ issue for another post, but please stay tuned because it comes up very often and there are some important concerns. But my last point today is that Suboxone does NOT cure opiate addiction, just as atenolol does NOT cure high blood pressure. To be honest, ‘cures’ are rare in medicine– we usually help the body heal itself or provide medication that ‘maintains’ a reduction in symptoms. We don’t fix the faulty blood pressure set point that is the core problem with hypertension– we give meds that artificially force the heart to pump with less force or at a lower rate, or that make the blood vessels open up wider, and that drops the blood pressure. Stop the medication and there often is a situation like ‘withdrawal’ where the blood pressure rebounds higher. Suboxone is an incredible medication– I know what it is like to be trapped by addiction before the days of Suboxone, and I understand why suicide is such a common outcome with addiction– if taken properly Suboxone will put addiction into complete remission, and that is a wonderful advance of science that saves many lives. BUT…. a person who becomes addicted to opiates has only three options: Buprenorphine maintenance for life, 12-step meetings for life, or prison and death.
DO NOT THINK THAT YOU CAN TAKE SUBOXONE FOR AWHILE, DO NO OTHER TYPE OF TREATMENT OR INSIGHT WORK, AND THEN STOP SUBOXONE.
In my next post I will try to talk about what a person on Suboxone CAN do to eventually stop taking the medication. I will also discuss the ever-important dosing question. The ‘sneak preview’ nutshell version is to follow the instructions of your prescribing doctor. Addicts take what they think they need to take– patients take what they are prescribed. You are not an addict anymore– are you?