Buprenorphine: Use of the Drug, Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

Man holding his back from cronic pain

Dr. SooMi Lee-Samuel, MD, MA, Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Today, the United States is in the grip of one of the worst drug epidemics ever experienced in our country. The drug in question is Oxycontin; the addicted population is…everyone.

Because Oxycontin is a legitimate, legal pharmaceutical drug, it is therefore prescribed to patients across-the-board – the middle-aged man who just underwent back surgery; the young mother who struggles with severe headaches; or the high school student who broke her leg during cheerleading practice. And then there are the untold numbers of people who purchase Oxycontin on the street just to get high.

Understanding the Addictive Nature of Oxycontin

oxycontin spilling out of a medicine bottleOxycontin is an opiate. It is extremely effective in reducing pain. It is also highly addictive. If used regularly, physical dependency will result. This is because the structure of the brain literally changes after ongoing exposure to this drug.

As an opiate is ingested over time, the brain attempts to protect itself and restore stability by reducing the number of available opiate receptors. This means an individual must take more and more of the drug to get the same effects. Additionally, if the drug is discontinued, withdrawal symptoms will manifest. Due to the severity of this symptoms, oxycontin addiction is very difficult to break.

If ever the expression “fight fire with fire” applied to detox and recovery, it is now. The truth is, going cold turkey with an opiate is essentially a set up to fail. The influence of the drug on the person’s mind, body, and soul is just too intense. Many treatment programs utilize Buprenorphine, which is the primary ingredient in Suboxone, to help individuals break the addiction and enter recovery.

Abuse Potential of Suboxone

Suboxone was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002 for the treatment of opioid dependence. This medication can suppress cravings and relieve the excruciating withdrawal symptoms that often lead to relapse. Suboxone comes in tablet and sublingual film; the latter form dissolves upon insertion under the tongue. It is taken daily.

This drug does have abuse potential, therefore, it must be carefully prescribed and monitored.
When this medication is used appropriately, it can provide the fighting chance that many people need to overcome addiction. However, as with many pharmaceutical drugs, it can lead to abuse and addiction.

What Are Signs of Abuse?

Signs of abuse include:

  • NauseaMan Sitting at the window thinking after taking Buprenorphine
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain and cramps
  • Watery eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Poor memory
  • Small pupils
  • Apathetic mood

Abuse can come in the form of ingesting too much of the drug, but typically an individual will take suboxone in tandem with alcohol or another drug to improve the high. This is extremely dangerous. Because it is an opiate, overuse of Suboxone results in respiratory suppression.

If an individual takes Suboxone with benzodiazepines, which is often the case, respiration can be suppressed to dangerously low levels. Coma and death are not uncommon.

Additional signs of Suboxone abuse include:

  • Strange behavior
  • Requiring refills before the designated time
  • Disturbed family relationships
  • Delivery of random packages at home or work

Suboxone exists for one reason: to help those addicted to opiates get clean and move into recovery. Misusing this drug, especially with alcohol or other drugs, is a recipe for genuine disaster. Today, far too many people throughout the United States are overdosing and dying.
If you or someone you know has a severe addiction, please get help.


About the Author:

Headshot of Dr. SooMi Lee-Samuel, MD, MA, Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment CenterDr. Lee-Samuel is board certified in Adult Psychiatry, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. As the Medical Director, she manages medications and serves as an important member and leader of the multi-disciplinary treatment teams at Timberline Knolls. She works collaboratively with primary/family therapists, expressive therapists, nutritionists and other treatment team members, and assists in administrative duties on campus.

Prior to coming to Timberline Knolls, Dr. Lee-Samuel was affiliated with multiple inpatient psychiatric hospitals including Lakeshore Hospital, Provena Mercy, and Alexian Brothers. She had a private practice for several years and was an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. She also served as the Director of Psychiatric Services for DCFS of Illinois.

Dr. Lee-Samuel attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. She is a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 8, 2016
Published on AddictionHope.com

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