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What Is Subutex?

Subutex is a form of buprenorphine, an FDA-approved drug that can be used to treat those dealing with opioid use disorder. In some cases, it may be prescribed as a painkiller.

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The drug has been discontinued, however. Most often, Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) is prescribed instead. The generic form of Subutex is simply buprenorphine.

Subutex is considered a partial opioid agonist, meaning it produces effects similar to the more powerful opioids it is taken in place of.

What Does Subutex Do & Who Benefits From It?

Buprenorphine can be an effective and safe drug for patients who have built up a tolerance to opioids due to their substance abuse.

Subutex or any medication cannot address opioid use disorder by itself. It must be used as part of a treatment plan that includes therapy and is formulated individually for each patient. Buprenorphine or Suboxone is commonly prescribed alongside various behavioral therapies to help patients recover from opioid abuse.

Buprenorphine may also be prescribed to help with chronic or acute pain, though this is less common.

Subutex functions as a replacement for whatever stronger opioid a patient is dependent on or abusing. Buprenorphine causes some of the same effects as opioids that are commonly abused, but to a lesser degree and in a less harmful way. This makes it an effective treatment for people who have opioid use disorder.  

How to Take Subutex

People must stop taking opioids 12 hours to a full day before starting Subutex. They should be just starting opioid withdrawal. 

Going through opioid withdrawal can be a hard and painful process. Patients who are prescribed Subutex or Suboxone are better able to manage the withdrawal process since withdrawal symptoms and cravings are managed. 

The Pros & Cons of Choosing Subutex

Pros of Subutex (Buprenorphine)

  • May reduce patient’s craving for more harmful opioids, including heroin and oxycontin
  • May reduce or prevent withdrawal symptoms
  • Has a much lower potential for abuse when compared to stronger drugs used to treat opioid abuse, such as methadone
  • Is an easily accessible treatment 

General healthcare providers can prescribe buprenorphine or Suboxone, while methadone can only be acquired at methadone clinics.

Cons of Subutex (Buprenorphine)

  • Has addictive properties, so can be abused by patients who are not using it as prescribed
  • Ingesting alcohol or any drugs that slow breathing along with buprenorphine can lead to respiratory problems
  • Maximum dosage may not be enough for some patients
  • Can cause acute withdrawal if opioids are still in the patient’s bloodstream 
  • May cause serious issues if patient is pregnant
  • May have a variety of side effects, ranging from inconvenient to deadly

Potential Side Effects

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, some side effects of buprenorphine may include the following:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Cramping
  • Vision problems
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tooth decay
  • Constipation
  • Throwing up
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Problems with the respiratory system
  • Becoming dependent on the medication
  • Withdrawal
  • Overdosing on the medication
  • Adrenal insufficiency

If you are experiencing any of these side effects or any other side effects not listed here after taking buprenorphine, speak with a medical professional.

Subutex vs. Suboxone

While Subutex and Suboxone both contain buprenorphine, there are a few differences between the two drugs.

The primary difference between Subutex and Suboxone is that the former contains only buprenorphine, while the latter contains both buprenorphine and naloxone.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it blocks the effects of other opioids. It is often used to reverse the effects in people experiencing an opioid overdose.

Naloxone is not absorbed orally, so patients using Suboxone properly will not be affected. The addition of naloxone to Suboxone is meant to prevent the injection of the drug by those attempting to abuse it.

In addition to these differences, the two drugs come in a different form. Subutex comes in the form of sublingual tablets, small pills that are placed under the tongue and then dissolve. Suboxone comes in the form of sublingual film, thin strips that are placed under the tongue and then dissolve.

Again, Subutex was discontinued in 2011. Suboxone is generally prescribed to those dealing with opioid use disorder.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated October 17, 2023
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  2. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs. (April 2022). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  3. Buprenorphine. (July 2022). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  4. Buprenorphine Quick Start Guide. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  5. Opioid Withdrawal. (May 2022). StatPearls.
  6. FDA Warns About Dental Problems With Buprenorphine Medicines Dissolved in the Mouth to Treat Opioid Use Disorder and Pain. (January 2022). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  7. Naloxone DrugFacts. (January 2022). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  8. Subutex. Drugs.com.
  9. Why Was Subutex Discontinued? (May 2021). Drugs.com.
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