What’s the Difference Between Suboxone and Subutex?

Written by Will Long

Opioid addiction is a serious public health crisis in the United States, with millions of Americans struggling with substance use disorders related to prescription painkillers and illicit opioids like heroin. Thankfully, effective medications are available to help individuals overcome opioid addiction and maintain long-term recovery. Two of the most commonly prescribed medications for opioid addiction treatment are Suboxone and Subutex.

While these brand-name drugs have similar-sounding names and are both used to treat opioid dependence, there are some key differences between them. Understanding these distinctions is important for anyone considering medication-assisted treatment for an opioid use disorder.

How Buprenorphine Works

The main active ingredient in both Suboxone and Subutex is buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist. This means buprenorphine interacts with the same brain receptors as opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers, but it has a “ceiling effect”—its opioid effects level off even with increased doses. This makes buprenorphine less likely to cause respiratory depression, overdose and addiction compared to other opioids.

Buprenorphine works by reducing opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, helping patients stop misusing opioids. By controlling cravings and withdrawal, buprenorphine allows patients to focus on other aspects of recovery like counseling, therapy and building a support network.

Suboxone vs. Subutex: Key Differences

The difference between Suboxone and Subutex comes down to their other ingredients. Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone, an opioid antagonist drug. If Suboxone is crushed and injected by someone dependent on opioids, the naloxone will produce sudden and severe withdrawal symptoms, making abuse less likely. The buprenorphine in Suboxone still has the potential for misuse, but the presence of naloxone is intended to deter abuse.

In contrast, Subutex contains only buprenorphine as its active ingredient, with no added naloxone. For this reason, Subutex has a higher potential for abuse than Suboxone and is usually only prescribed for a short time at the beginning of treatment under close medical supervision. Suboxone tends to be the preferred formulation for outpatient buprenorphine treatment due to its lower abuse potential.

Formulations and Dosing

Both Suboxone and Subutex are taken sublingually (dissolved under the tongue) and come in multiple dosage strengths. Suboxone is available as sublingual films or tablets in four dosage strengths ranging from 2 mg buprenorphine/0.5 mg naloxone to 12 mg buprenorphine/3 mg naloxone. Subutex sublingual tablets come in 2 mg and 8 mg strengths of buprenorphine.

The appropriate medication, formulation and dosage for each patient must be determined by a qualified addiction medicine physician based on the patient’s individual needs and situation. Factors that influence medication selection and dosing include the severity of the patient’s opioid use disorder, their overall health status, prior experiences with withdrawal, and the presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders or addictions.

Treatment with Suboxone or Subutex is typically started during the early stages of opioid withdrawal, once withdrawal symptoms have begun but before they become severe. This timing helps reduce the risk of precipitated withdrawal that can occur if buprenorphine is started too soon after last opioid use. Patients are monitored regularly and dosages may be adjusted as needed to control cravings and withdrawal while minimizing side effects.

The Importance of Comprehensive Treatment

Importantly, Suboxone and Subutex are intended to be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes counseling and behavioral therapies. Medication alone is not sufficient to support long-term recovery from opioid addiction for most people. A combination of medication, therapy, peer support and lifestyle changes offers the best chances of success.

Counseling helps patients address the underlying issues that contributed to their addiction, develop coping skills, and learn how to prevent relapse. Behavioral therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management have been shown to enhance the effectiveness of medication treatment for opioid use disorder. Peer support groups and 12-step programs provide a valuable sense of community and accountability.

Medications like Suboxone and Subutex can be safely taken long-term as part of a recovery plan. While some patients may eventually taper off these medications under medical supervision, others may benefit from continued maintenance treatment to prevent relapse. The right path is different for each person based on their unique needs and circumstances.

Get Help Now

At JourneyPure At The River, we understand the challenges of overcoming opioid addiction and we’re here to help. Our experienced clinicians can work with you to determine if Suboxone or Subutex may be appropriate for your situation and recovery needs. We offer these medications as part of comprehensive, customized treatment plans that address addiction’s physical, mental and spiritual aspects.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, don’t wait to reach out for help. Call JourneyPure At The River today at 615-410-9260 to learn more about our evidence-based, compassionate treatment programs and begin your path to lasting recovery.