Subutex is a prescription narcotic that is used to treat pain and help opiate addicts quit using heroin and other drugs. Subutex is becoming more popular in mainstream medicine, with about one in 20 physicians now prescribing the drug for pain relief. Unfortunately, Subutex itself also carries the risk of addiction. Although this semi-synthetic opioid is a mixed agonist-antagonist, many opiate users take the drug for its euphoric effects.

What Names Does Subutex Go By?

The buprenorphine formulation marketed as Subutex is also available as a generic product and in Buprenex form as a pill or injectable, respectively. On the street, Subutex may be called bupe, subbies or temmies. However, these terms can also refer to Suboxone, a formulation of buprenorphine with naloxone.

What Is the Federal Classification of Subutex?

Subutex is classified as a Schedule III substance due to its risk of causing physical dependence. When it was released in 2002, regulators recognized the reduced risk of dependence associated with Subutex compared with heroin, morphine and other opiates that are known to be strongly addictive. For this reason, the drug avoided being categorized in Schedule II with many other opioid drugs such as those listed above. Unfortunately, this makes Subutex easier to obtain than other prescription narcotics and has contributed to its popularity on the black market.

What Is Subutex and What Does It Look Like?

Brand-name Subutex is manufactured by Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, Inc. as elliptical or oval white pills with imprints of B2 for the 2 milligram dosage and B8 for the 8 milligram dosage. In its generic form, Subutex is produced as round white pills bearing a 2 or 8 depending on its dosage in milligrams. The injectable form of buprenorphine, sold under the brand name Buprenex, comes as a liquid in vials. Buprenorphine, the chemical name of Subutex, is a mixed opiate agonist-antagonist that causes withdrawal symptoms in active opiate users but not in others. In addition, Subutex is preferred by the brain’s opiate receptors and prevents heroin or other pure agonists from having effects. These properties make Subutex one common alternative to methadone for weaning addicts off of heroin and other opiates.

How Is Subutex Used?

Subutex is used differently depending on the form of the drug and the intent of the user. In medical settings, the liquid form of the drug is administered via injection by doctors and nurses. Patients and recovering addicts who are prescribed Subutex are told to dissolve the pill under the tongue for absorption through the membranes in the mouth. However, addicts often crush the pill and mix it with water for injection despite the risks associated with this practice.

Risks of Subutex Usage

Subutex can be dangerous for patients as well as recovering and active opiate addicts due to its sedative action. However, Subutex also carries other risks. When the drug is used as prescribed, the risk of death due to respiratory depression is almost nonexistent unless mixed with other depressants, such as alcohol, sedatives and pain medications. Subutex can cause liver damage with long-term use, and addiction is a serious risk even for legitimate users. Some recovering addicts becoming addicted to Subutex while using it to quit taking heroin or other illicit opiates. Finally, users who inject Subutex pills can suffer vein damage and other complications.

How Does Subutex Affect the Mind?

Subutex causes feelings of relaxation and euphoria that make psychological dependence a significant risk for users. Even before physical dependence develops, users may desire larger doses of Subutex in order to reach the same level of intoxication they felt when they started taking the drug. In the long term, Subutex can cause anxiety and depression in users.

How Does Subutex Affect the Body?

Subutex has effects on the the body similar to those caused by other opioid drugs. The depressant effects of Subutex cause heart rate and breathing to slow down. Sweating, dry mouth, headache, blurred vision and constipation are other common physical effects of the drug. Over time, users may develop gynecomastia, hypothyroidism, liver damage and problems with eyesight such as blurry vision, amblyopia, miosis and conjunctivitis.

What Are the Overdose Effects of Subutex?

Overdose can happen when users take excessive doses of Subutex. However, overdose is less likely to occur with Subutex compared to many other opioids, such as heroin. With mild overdose, users may experience reduced breathing, drowsiness and dizziness. Severe overdose involves severe respiratory depression and death. When Subutex is used in combination with other depressant drugs, overdose may occur at relatively small dosages.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Subutex?

Subutex delivers mostly normal opioid effects, but its onset is faster than drugs designed for ingestion because it is absorbed through the membranes in the mouth. Pain relief, mood elevation and sedation often occur alongside nausea, confusion and drowsiness. When Subutex is injected, intense euphoria occurs as well as stronger nausea, drowsiness and other symptoms.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Subutex?

Over time, Subutex users develop physical dependence on the drug and may experience numerous problems as a result. The body’s adaptation to long-term Subutex use means that the opposite of the drug’s usual effects occur when users quit taking it. This is no different from other opioid drugs, but Subutex also carries risks of other problems developing over time. Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

  • anxiety
  • sweating
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • sneezing
  • goose bumps
  • runny nose
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain
  • muscle tension
  • tremors
  • insomnia
  • hallucinations

Other problems caused by long-term Subutex use, such as liver damage, gynecomastia and hypothyroidism, can cause problems for users long after stopping the drug. Due to the drug’s addictiveness, many users find themselves hooked on opiates despite their intentions to quit with the help of Subutex. This can disrupt lives and contribute to users’ long-term opiate addiction rather than eliminate it.