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What Is Subutex? How Does It Compare to Suboxone?

Drug cravings aren’t rational. As much as your mind wants sobriety, your body may desire intoxication. Medications can help.

Subutex and Suboxone are prescription therapies designed to ease your need for opioids. You can focus on your recovery without distraction with their help.

Subutex and Suboxone work in tandem, and often, people never take Subutex at all. Suboxone contains ingredients that block abuse, so it’s a safer option for doctors to prescribe. But if Suboxone therapy isn’t right for you, Subutex may be your therapy choice. 

Continue reading to learn the differences and similarities between the two medications. You’ll understand when Subutex might be right for you and how you can get this therapy started.

What Do These Medications Treat?

Subutex and Suboxone are prescription treatments for addiction. They are sometimes used for chronic pain, but that’s not common. They are structurally similar to opioids like heroin and OxyContin, but they contain safeguards against abuse.

Subutex contains buprenorphine. This ingredient soothes drug cravings, as it latches to opioid receptors. At proper doses, it does not produce euphoria. 

Buprenorphine has what some refer to as a “ceiling effect,” so it stops working at a preset dose. If it’s taken orally, the drug cannot overwhelm the body. Instead, it just works to ease nasty symptoms of drug addiction.

People who use it do not feel high. Instead, people taking this drug feel calm, and that helps them focus on recovery.

Suboxone also contains buprenorphine, but it has an additional ingredient (naloxone) that provides more abuse protection. This is a complete agonist, and it caps opioid receptors. During overdoses, naloxone saves lives. It inactivates opioid elements and reverses sedation. 

Suboxone with naloxone offers relief from craving while ensuring that the drug is not rewarding when abused. Subutex does not provide that protection. 

When you’re in addiction recovery, the thought of using medication may repel you. These two therapy options could offer you the help you need to recover, and they both protect your autonomy. 

Experts point out that Subutex and Suboxone are designed for home use. Unlike methadone, which requires a daily trip to the clinic, these drugs are prescribed by specially licensed doctors and dispensed in pharmacies for week-long or month-long doses. Using them can give you:

  • Flexibility. You’ll take them on your schedule, not one set by a clinic.
  • Obligations. Each day, you’ll choose to take medications. That enforces your decision to remain sober.
  • Choices. You can decide to tell others about your care, or you can keep it private.
  • Responsibility. These medications aren’t safe for children. You’re required to keep them safe. 

These are attributes you need to maintain a sober life. Your participation in medication therapy helps to reinforce them. 
The buprenorphine in both medications produces side effects.

  • Headaches 
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia 
  • Weak muscles or lack of energy 
  • Sweating
  • Chills 

Don’t let these symptoms keep you from therapy. When they appear, talk to your doctor. A dosage adjustment often makes them disappear.

When Should You Use Subutex?

Suboxone contains protections that Subutex does not. Those safeguards could be critical in early recovery, and that’s why doctors often choose Suboxone. Some people need the other drug option, and you could be one of them.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports people with addictions should use Suboxone first. It’s a safer drug for people with addictions, and that protection is critical for people in recovery.

The FDA also notes some people have allergic reactions to naloxone. If they do, they need to take Subutex instead.

In 2008, researchers gave 64 people Subutex and Suboxone. Some of the study participants abused their drugs by crushing them, mixing them with water, and injecting the liquid into their veins. They all said pushing Subutex via needle caused no euphoria at all. It was similar to abusing water. Few of these people wanted to try it again. 

In 2010, researchers gave former heroin abusers both Subutex and Suboxone. Once again, some people abused their medications with a needle. Those who did say they would pay significantly less for Suboxone. They didn’t get high from abusing the drug, and they didn’t want to retake it. 

The research is clear. If you’re worried that you will abuse your medication, Suboxone can protect you in a way that Subutex cannot. That’s why your doctor may choose one drug over the other. 

Where Can You Get Them?

Both Subutex and Suboxone are prescription medications. As long as your doctor has a waiver to treat opioid addiction, he or she can prescribe either one.  A pharmacy won’t fill the prescription without authorization. Pharmacies may only carry a limited about of these medications in stock.

When you enroll in a recovery program, getting the medication should be easy, but not always.

Officials are worried about people taking drugs improperly. Drug addiction is associated with serious problems, including:

  • Crime. Addictions are expensive, and people may steal to buy drugs.
  • Overdose. High doses of drugs can kill.
  • Health issues. Infections from needles, heart failure, and kidney damage are some of the chronic conditions drugs can cause.
  • Loss of workers. People with addictions may drop out of the workforce and that can harm businesses. 

Officials believe the best way to stop drug abuse is to control the flow of prescriptions. Since buprenorphine can be abused, its release is strictly regulated. 

To prescribe Subutex, a doctor needs a waiver from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). You can’t walk up to any medical professional and ask for a prescription for it. If your doctor does not have the waiver, ask for a referral to one that does. 

Finding a pharmacy may not be easy either. Some communities pass bills that limit how much Subutex medication is available. Not all pharmacies will carry it. Those that do may have a limited quantity in stock. 

Enroll in a reputable addiction treatment program and avoid these obstacles. Providers in these programs can write the prescriptions you need, and they may be able to fill the orders on site. You’ll skip the hassle altogether. 

Medications Are A Part of Your Solution 

While medications ease cravings, they do not teach you new habits. You need additional help that doesn’t come from a pharmacy. You will get that assistance in a treatment program. 

Your step-by-step recovery plan may include:

  • Individual counseling. Why did you start using drugs? Are other mental health issues blocking your recovery? You’ll explore these questions with your therapist.
  • Support groups. How do other people stay sober? What lessons can you learn from your peers? You’ll connect with others in recovery in meetings like this.
  • Group therapy. Common challenges are explored with a therapist and other people with addictions.
  • Complementary care. Yoga, massage, equine-assisted therapy, art therapy, and more help you find new methods of relaxation and expression. 

Every person’s path to recovery is different and your mix of treatment changes as you change. It is important to use every tool presented to you. They usually complement one another. 

If you’re tempted to abuse your medication, tell your doctor. Your dose might not be strong enough or you might need another type of addiction therapy or both. Your doctor can help you explore your options and make the right choice. 

If you do slip, tell your treatment team right away. One minor mishap doesn’t need to blossom into a complete return to drug use. Your team can help you explore what happened, and you can learn from the experience to prevent the next relapse.

There is no shame in an occasional mistake, as long as you learn and grow as a result.

Recovery from addiction is possible, as people choose to enter treatment every day. With the help of a qualified team, you can do it. Medications can help.


(June 2015). To Be Free and Normal: Addiction, Governance, and the Therapeutics of Buprenorphine. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. Retrieved February 2019 from

Subutex/Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone). Center Watch. Retrieved February 2019 from

(February 2018). Prescribing Information: Subutex. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from

(June 2008). A Retrospective Evaluation of Patients Switched from Buprenorphine (Subutex) to the Buprenorphine/Naloxone Combination (Suboxone). Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. Retrieved February 2019 from

(July 2010). Abuse Liability of Intravenous Buprenorphine/Naloxone and Buprenorphine Alone in Buprenorphine-Maintained Intravenous Heroin Abusers. Addiction. Retrieved February 2019 from

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