How Long Does Suboxone Block Opiates?

Today, treatment centers often use what is called medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, for treating opiate addiction. This involves substituting a similar medication instead of completely stopping a substance.[1] With opioid addiction, suboxone is a common substitute medication. To understand how long it may block opiates, it helps to understand how opioids and addiction work.


What Are Opiates?

Opiates are drugs derived from opium. There are natural and synthetic substances. Opiates are natural opioids like codeine, heroin, or morphine.[2] However, the term opioids refer to all-natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids.[2] The common drugs used for legal prescription pain relief, like fentanyl and tramadol, are synthetic opioids, and oxycodone is an example of a semi-synthetic opioid.[3] However, fentanyl is illegally sold on the street without a prescription and often makes news headlines for being especially dangerous.

Understanding the Opioid Drug Use Problem

Although there are several harmful legal and illegal drugs, opioids have recently gained particular attention because of their danger. Many people have died from an accidental overdose using illegal or legal opioids. They can make people feel relaxed or sleepy when taken in lower doses.[4] Also, prescription opioids like tramadol and oxycodone are prescribed to relieve severe pain. What makes them dangerous is that they can slow heart rate and breathing when taken in higher doses.[4]

When people take heroin, oxycodone, or other opioids, the substances bind to the brain’s opioid receptors to change brain signals. The change they create activates the reward sensation that causes feelings of pleasure and changes how people perceive pain.[5] Because people want more of those rewards, they often tend to use more of the substance. However, the body also builds a tolerance to the effects the opioids have, which means it takes more to achieve the same effect.[5] This is dangerous since higher doses can cause respiratory depression and decreased heart rate. As people become dependent on opioids, they can also develop an addiction to them. Addiction occurs when someone knows the harm a substance can do but cannot stop using it.[6]

In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured doctors that opioids were safe to prescribe and that they would not cause addiction.[7] As a result, physicians felt comfortable prescribing the medications more liberally to people who needed them for pain. This led to a growth in the use of both legal and illegal opioids.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in 2017 because of the widespread misuse of opioids and the climbing death toll from overdoses.[7] By 2019, it was reported that at least 1.6 million Americans were still misusing opioids.[8] Today, HHS and other organizations are working harder to reduce the use of prescription opioids and to help people overcome addiction to both legal and illegal opioids.

Opioid Drug Withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal syndrome occurs when a person is dependent on opioids and stops taking them, and it can be a life-threatening condition.[9] Several changes in the body and brain occur as they become accustomed to functioning without opioids. The symptoms vary based on how long a person has gone without taking opioids.[8] These are some potential symptoms of withdrawal from natural opiates or other forms of opioids during the first 24 hours:

  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Watery eyes
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning and inability to sleep

After the first day of stopping opioids, the withdrawal symptoms become more intense.[8] These are some common symptoms:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Chills
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Blurry vision
  • Dilated pupils

Symptoms usually start improving for most people after about 72 hours.[8] Most people feel considerably better physically after about a week. However, they still experience intense cravings during and after withdrawal since opioids activate the brain’s reward center.[5]

Why Supervised Opioid Detox Is Important

Plenty of misinformation sites on the internet guide people through self-detox plans. However, these can be dangerous. It may seem like the withdrawal symptoms listed previously are unpleasant but do not pose life-threatening risks. Unfortunately, some people can and do die due to complications from those symptoms and do not seek medical treatment.[10] For example, a person with vomiting and diarrhea may not feel well enough to keep drinking water and electrolytes to replace the lost fluid. This can lead to hypernatremia, which can cause heart failure if it is not treated promptly.[10]

Some people do not realize those risks, and others may be afraid to seek medical help for fear of getting in trouble. It is important to remember that treatment facilities are there to help and not to make matters worse for people who want to detox and start recovery. With medical supervision from a treatment facility, people are either supervised in the facility while they detox or indirectly at home with some MAT programs.[11] Medical professionals can monitor symptoms and provide additional medications or treatments to prevent complications from withdrawal.

Another essential reason to work with a treatment facility to detox is that cravings tend to be more assertive when people are detoxing without MAT.[11] Because of this, it can be easy for some people who try to detox on their own to use opioids again to satisfy the cravings and stop the discomfort of withdrawal.

How Suboxone Works in Addiction Recovery

Suboxone is a common drug used in MAT to help people safely detox from opioid misuse. People addicted for a while or with considerable relapse risk are often good candidates. For those who have a long history of addiction to heroin or other opioids, there is also methadone for long-term treatment. Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.[8] Buprenorphine is an opioid, and naloxone is an opioid blocker.[8] Some people who use opioids are familiar with naloxone, administered in the event of a potential overdose. It immediately reverses the effects of opioids and can save a person’s life if the individual takes a high dose of an opioid.

Buprenorphine is considered one of the best opioid medications for managing severe or moderate withdrawal.[11] In addition to reducing cravings, it helps alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. Medical professionals base doses on previous use of opioids, side effects, and how well symptoms are controlled.[11] When combined with naloxone, buprenorphine can reduce the potential for abuse.[8]

The combined drug suboxone can considerably shorten detox duration and alleviate withdrawal discomfort. In addition to administering suboxone, treatment professionals provide therapy for a holistic addiction treatment approach. Detox is only one step; behavioral therapy is essential to address other issues and reduce relapse risks.

Effectiveness of Suboxone

Many studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of suboxone. In one study, its critical opioid drug, buprenorphine, was 75% effective in preventing relapse for at least a year.[12] Currently, only 10% and 20% of people with opioid use disorder receive adequate treatment.[13] Although evidence supports the effectiveness of suboxone, it is underutilized today.[12] Health professionals in the state of New Jersey are trying to address that.

How Long Does Suboxone Block Opiates?

For more dangerous opiates like heroin, suboxone usually effectively blocks the full effects for at least 24 hours.[14] It may block them for up to 60 hours in some cases. This means that if someone takes opioids within 24 hours of taking suboxone, the opioids will not work or produce the same effects they used to for that individual.

Suboxone Administration in New Jersey

Recently, paramedics were approved to carry and administer buprenorphine to people who receive emergency naloxone.[15] This is to help ease the withdrawal symptoms. Counties in New Jersey publish data about suboxone administration and opioid treatment. For example, in 2019, Somerset County reported about 37% of treatment facility admissions for the county’s residents were for opioids.[16] However, only 7% of people admitted received suboxone, and 10% received methadone. For the same year in Essex County, 51% of treatment facility admissions of residents were for opioids, and 6% received suboxone.[17] Another 22% received methadone.

Find Opioid Rehab Facilities Near You

Without behavioral therapy, suboxone is not considered an effective addiction treatment option. Garden State Detox combines individual counseling and MAT to help people get a strong start on their recovery journey. In addition to offering MAT programs, we provide opioid detox, residential treatment, and even teletherapy. Also, we offer alcohol addiction treatment options. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, please get in touch with us to learn more about opioid detox and treatment in New Jersey.


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