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Side Effects of Sublocade (Common & Rare) to Understand

Like any medication, Sublocade comes with the potential for side effects. Common side effects include constipation, nausea, headache, drowsiness, muscle aches, and fatigue, among others. Rare side effects include breathing problems, liver damage, overdose, dependence, and hormonal issues.[1]

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What Is Sublocade?

Sublocade is a brand-name version of buprenorphine, a medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the long-term treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD). 

Buprenorphine is considered safe to take for as long as an individual needs it. It treats OUD by reducing cravings for opioids and managing difficult withdrawal symptoms. 

Breaking Down the Side Effects of Sublocade

The use of Sublocade (and buprenorphine) is associated with varying side effects. This chart breaks down common and rare side effects of the medication:[1]

Common Side EffectsRare Side Effects
Constipation, nausea, vomiting, and headacheDifficulty breathing
Dizziness, drowsiness, and fatigueDependence and withdrawal
Muscle aches, pains, and crampsHormonal effects 
Difficulty sleeping and focusing Liver damage
Pain or itching at the injection siteOverdose 

Common Side Effects 

As with any medication, certain side effects may occur with Sublocade use. Below are common side effects that are often experienced from taking buprenorphine medications, like Sublocade.[3]

Headache, Vomiting & Nausea

Nausea, vomiting, and headache are some of the most common side effects of Sublocade, explains the FDA. They often occur but should also subside. If they do not subside or worsen, report them to your doctor.

Sleepiness & Fatigue

A common side effect of taking opioids like Sublocade is feeling fatigued, sleepy, or tired. As the medication wears off, so should the sense of fatigue. This side effect also generally subsides somewhat with continued use. 

Pain at the Injection Site

As Sublocade is injected underneath the skin, it is possible to experience some irritation at the injection site. The skin may itch, and there may be some pain where the needle punctured the skin. 

Rare Side Effects

Although rare, more serious side effects can occur from taking Sublocade. They should be treated with medical attention as soon as they occur. These are some of the rare side effects:[4]

Respiratory Problems

As an opioid medication, Sublocade can impact breathing. Slowed or difficult breathing are signs of respiratory problems that require immediate medical treatment. This should be considered a medical emergency.

Dependency & Withdrawal

Although Sublocade is prescribed to treat OUD, physical dependence forms on the medication. When use is suddenly stopped, especially in people who have taken Sublocade for an extended period of time, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms may occur. If you are stopping Sublocade, this process should be overseen by a doctor.

Overdose

It is rare for someone to overdose on buprenorphine medications, but it can happen (though it usually only happens in someone who is opioid-naïve). If someone relapses after taking Sublocade, they may take a dangerously high dose of opioids, unaware of how their tolerance has decreased during treatment. 

Signs of an opioid overdose include extreme drowsiness, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision, suppressed breathing, and unconsciousness. Overdoses must be treated immediately to reverse their harmful effects. Naloxone (Narcan) is given to reverse an opioid overdose.

Unusual Side Effects of Sublocade 

Rare and unusual side effects of Sublocade use can occur. If you experience any serious side effects, act quickly. Talk to your doctor or visit an emergency room. Here are some of these side effects to consider:[1-3]

Liver Problems

People who take Sublocade are at risk of experiencing liver problems. Liver function tests should be conducted regularly by your healthcare provider to ensure the medication is not negatively affecting your liver function. 

Androgen Deficiency

An unusual but possible side effect of long-term opioid treatment is a decrease in testosterone levels in men. Opioids, which is the class of drugs Sublocade belongs to, reduce the amount of hormones that are released in the body. Men receiving high doses of opioid treatment, such as Sublocade, for longer than one month are at the greatest risk for developing opioid-induced androgen deficiency.[2] 

What to Do If You Experience Side Effects While on Sublocade

If you experience side effects while taking Sublocade, note your symptoms and consult your prescribing doctor or another medical professional. Some side effects may occur, but they should not be a threat to your health. Your doctor can decide if it is safe to continue taking Sublocade or if an alternative medication may be more appropriate for your situation.

Sublocade is just one type of medication used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for OUD. Methadone, other forms of buprenorphine (such as Suboxone), and naltrexone are other types of medication used to treat OUD.[5] These might be safer alternatives if Sublocade is producing harmful side effects. 

Updated March 18, 2024
Resources
  1. Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published January 30, 2024. Accessed February 20, 2024.
  2. Testosterone deficiency, the unrecognized consequence of the opioid epidemic in men. Trends in Urology & Men’s Health. Published March 15, 2022. Accessed February 20, 2024.
  3. FDA approves first once-monthly buprenorphine injection, a medication-assisted treatment option for opioid use disorder. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published November 30, 2017. Accessed February 20, 2024.
  4. Buprenorphine sublingual and buccal (opioid dependence). U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published May 15, 2023. Accessed February 20, 2024.
  5. Mauro PM, Gutkind S, Annunziato EM, Samples H. Use of medication for opioid use disorder among US adolescents and adults with need for opioid treatment, 2019. JAMA Network Open. 2022;5(3):e223821.
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