Suboxone is a buprenorphine-based sublingual medication commonly prescribed in the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD). Buprenorphine is a partial opioid. What is an opioid, and what is OUD?
An opioid is a chemically altering substance that binds to proteins in the brain called opioid receptors. Opioids can be broken down into two categories: full opioid agonists and partial opioid agonists. Examples of full opioid agonists include heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl, and methadone. Examples of partial opioid agonists include tramadol, butorphanol, and buprenorphine.
Opioid use disorder or OUD is the medical term for opioid dependence and addiction. Opioids mimic the effect of endorphins being released in the brain. It is, for this reason, they become addictive.
Is Buprenorphine Addictive?
Drugs as potent as opioids can cause dependence, without them it can be very difficult to function but the introduction of a partial opioid can help establish equilibrium in the brain and enable the individual to rebuild their lives without using opioids illicitly. While buprenorphine is an opioid, it is a partial opioid. This distinction is very important.
Full agonists and partial agonists activate the opioid receptors in the brain to different extents. Buprenorphine, the partial agonist/antagonist, is much more competitive than full agonists such as heroin or oxycodone. Buprenorphine will overthrow full agonist opioids and bind more aggressively than synthetic opioids to the brain’s opioid receptors. In addition to this, the drug retains a ‘ceiling effect’ or threshold, which means that tolerance to buprenorphine does not increase over time as it does in conjunction with full opioid agonists.
Continued opioid use reconfigures the brain’s chemical make-up. The brain uses neurotransmitters to communicate and regulate the body’s response to stimuli. Neurotransmitters such as endorphins are secreted by neurons in the brain to initiate action and combat pain. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that attach to the brain’s opioid receptors and release endorphins. The neurons then propel the endorphins through the brain’s pain corridors to alleviate discomfort and deliver relief. The ingestion of opioids simulates the effects of natural secretion in the brain and imitates neurotransmission. Refer to Suboxone Ingredients: All You Need to Know for more on this.