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Sublocade Withdrawal & Timelines on What to Expect

Sublocade is a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) prescribed to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). While it is used to reduce withdrawal symptoms from prescription and illicit opioids, it is possible to also experience withdrawal from Sublocade itself.

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If you wish to stop taking Sublocade, talk to your prescribing doctor about the best way to stop use. 

Understanding Sublocade Withdrawal 

Sublocade helps manage the withdrawal symptoms from more potent opioids, such as heroin. The active ingredient in Sublocade is buprenorphine, which is much less potent than other full opioids. Buprenorphine allows people to stop their abuse of opioids without experiencing negative withdrawal symptoms and cravings that often inhibit recovery.[1]

Although Sublocade is prescribed to treat opioid withdrawal, withdrawal symptoms can occur when buprenorphine use is stopped after a period of sustained use. The higher the dose of buprenorphine that has been consumed and the longer the period of time, the more likely it is that a person will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking medications like Sublocade. [1]

What Can You Expect When Going Through Sublocade Withdrawal? 

When going through Sublocade withdrawal, you can expect to experience symptoms similar to opioid withdrawal, though generally not as severe. People who have been taking any type of opioid medication for more than a few weeks are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. 

Symptoms of Sublocade and opioid withdrawal include the following:[2]

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Increased tearing
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia 
  • Yawning
  • Muscle aches 
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chills 
  • Nausea and vomiting 

If you experience any of the above symptoms while withdrawing from Sublocade, talk to your healthcare professional. Acute withdrawal symptoms can be managed to make the process less uncomfortable. 

Sublocade Withdrawal Timelines 

Withdrawal symptoms of Sublocade may not be noticed for a month after use has been stopped.[4] Due to the long-acting nature of Sublocade, it takes a long time to be metabolized from the body. As such, withdrawal symptoms are expected to be delayed. Healthcare providers are encouraged to monitor their patients for several months after their last injection. 

For up to six months, minor physical symptoms—such as tiredness, anxiety, and sleep disturbances—may be felt after discontinuing long-acting medications, like Sublocade. [3]

People taking long-acting opioids may experience a slower onset of symptoms that are not as acutely uncomfortable as short-acting opioids, like heroin or oxycodone. However, many people feel the withdrawal symptoms are worse, as they may last for several months. Reports of drug cravings for years after use have stopped have also been reported.[3]

Tapering Sublocade to Avoid Withdrawal

Tapering off medication is often the best way to avoid potential withdrawal symptoms. Tapering means gradually reducing the amount of Sublocade you are taking over time. By doing so, you allow your body to slowly adjust to less and less of the opioid in your system, which reduces the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms.[5]

To taper off a drug safely, consult with your doctor. Together, you can make a plan for how much of the drug to take, gradually reducing your dose over time. If done correctly, you may be able to avoid the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms altogether. 

Since Sublocade is given in monthly injections, the tapering process will be slower than if you were tapering off another form of buprenorphine like Suboxone. In some instances, your doctor may recommend switching to Suboxone and then tapering off that medication.

For withdrawal symptoms that do occur, such as dehydration and nausea, simple treatments can be used to make the process more comfortable.[5] Psychological support is important during this process, as relapse can be more likely.

The Importance of Medical Guidance

If you are curious about receiving medication to treat an opioid abuse issue, consult an addiction treatment professional. There are many treatment options available, and your treatment team can help you determine which will likely be the safest and most effective medication for you. 

If you are already taking Sublocade and would like to taper off it, talk to your provider about how best to do this. Suddenly stopping Sublocade could result in withdrawal symptoms, which poses a risk of relapse. Work with a doctor to mitigate potential withdrawal symptoms, so you can reduce the risk of relapse and encourage your sustained recovery.[6]

Updated March 18, 2024
Resources
  1. Kumar, K., Viswanath, O., and Saadabadi, A. Buprenorphine. StatPearls Publishing. Published November 30, 2023. Accessed February 23, 2024.
  2. Opiate and opioid withdrawal. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Published April 30, 2022. Accessed February 23, 2024.
  3. O’Malley, G. and O’Malley, R. Opioid toxicity and withdrawal. MSD Manual Professional Version. Published December 2022. Accessed February 23, 2024.
  4. Sublocade. MIMS. Published May 2021. Accessed February 23, 2024.
  5. Opioid withdrawal symptoms. Healthdirect Australia. Published August 2023. Accessed February 23, 2024.
  6. Ling W, Hillhouse M, Domier C, et al. Buprenorphine tapering schedule and illicit opioid use. Addiction (Abingdon, England). 2009;104(2):256-265.
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