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What Is Suboxone, and Is It Safe?

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Suboxone is a controlled medication used to support people struggling with opioid addiction. People may take Suboxone to help with opioid withdrawal symptoms or cravings. When used appropriately in medication-assisted treatment (MAT), this substance can contribute in huge ways to helping people get their lives back on track.

That said, Suboxone does have the potential to be abused, so it’s important to know the risks.

What Is Suboxone?

Suboxone is the brand name for a prescription medication aimed at treating opioid addiction. Suboxone contains two key ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone.

Buprenorphine itself is an opioid, but it’s considered a partial opioid agonist. That means it helps prevent other opioids (like heroin) from binding to opioid receptors in the brain. In other words, it blocks the pleasurable, euphoric effects people feel when they get high. Buprenorphine also helps reduce cravings and decrease uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Many people know naloxone under its brand name: Narcan. Narcan is an opioid antagonist, which means it can reverse the effects of opioids. If someone injects Suboxone, the naloxone will trigger withdrawal symptoms. This effect often discourages people from abusing it.

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) classifies Suboxone as a Schedule III narcotic. This classification means the drug has medicinal benefits, but it also has a significant risk for abuse. You can only legally receive Suboxone with a prescription.

Why Do Doctors Prescribe Suboxone?

A doctor might prescribe Suboxone during opioid withdrawal. Withdrawing from opioids can be a highly distressing time. Many people relapse to avoid the unpleasant symptoms. Suboxone can help them transition through this phase.

Some people also use Suboxone as a long-term opioid recovery solution. That’s because this medication can significantly reduce cravings. When it’s part of comprehensive substance abuse treatment, it can help with sustained recovery.

How Long Does Suboxone Stay in Your System?

Compared to other opioids, Suboxone has a fairly long half-life. A half-life refers to the amount of time it takes for a drug to be reduced by 50%. It can take up to 8 to 10 days before Suboxone is no longer detectable. But the true number of days Suboxone stays in your system depends on several factors that are unique to you. They include:

  • Your body weight and body fat
  • Your age
  • The size of the last dose you took
  • Your metabolism
  • The frequency of use
  • Your overall physical health

What Are the Side Effects of Suboxone?

All medications carry the risk of side effects. Common Suboxone side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Constipation
  • Mouth numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Concentration problems
  • Flu-like symptoms

More severe problems that warrant medical attention include:

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Intense dizziness
  • Excess drowsiness and problems waking up
  • Shallow breathing
  • Fainting
  • Severe confusion

Because Suboxone is a prescribed medication, be sure to take it exactly as your doctors instructs. Talk to your medical provider if you experience uncomfortable side effects.

How Do You Take Suboxone?

Suboxone comes in sublingual film strips. “Sublingual” means “applied under the tongue,” so Suboxone strips dissolve under your tongue. They may also be taken on the inside of your cheek. Most people take one dose once a day, but always take your prescription exactly as your doctor tells you.

Can You Abuse Suboxone?

Yes, Suboxone can lead to dependence. This risk goes up when people snort or inject Suboxone. While anyone is at risk for abusing Suboxone, it may be more common in people who:

  • Have previous histories of abusing opioids
  • Struggle with heroin addiction and want to avoid the withdrawal process altogether
  • Lack awareness or information about the potential risk for misuse

Some people buy Suboxone illegally to relieve opioid withdrawal. Instead of seeking treatment, they may take Suboxone whenever they experience withdrawal symptoms, leading them to become dependent on Suboxone.

If you’re struggling with dependence, you shouldn’t stop taking Suboxone without consulting your doctor. Stopping this drug abruptly can result in withdrawal symptoms. While these symptoms aren’t life-threatening on their own, they can be extremely uncomfortable, and this discomfort can lead you to relapse.

Can You Overdose on Suboxone?

Like any opioid, it is possible to overdose on Suboxone. Overdose remains one of the most serious risks of any opioid medication. Without intervention, an overdose can result in death. Symptoms of a Suboxone overdose include:

  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Constricted pupils
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Slowed or stopped breathing

If you suspect an overdose, contact 911 immediately. It’s crucial to get professional medical help as soon as possible.

Suboxone isn’t a cure for addiction, but it can be a powerful tool in helping you to get through withdrawal and in supporting your long-term recovery. At Footprints to Recovery, we support our clients in making the best choices for their well-being. If we think Suboxone is a good option for you, we’ll let you know why and answer any questions you have. We’re here for you. Contact us today to get the help you need.

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.

Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine. It is illegal and listed as a Schedule I drug in the United States. That means it has a high potential for abuse and doesn’t have any accepted medical uses.

Heroin can be sold in various ways, including as white or brownish powders. Pure heroin is white, but black tar heroin resembles sticky tar or hardened coal. This dark color comes from different processing methods for black tar heroin than for pure heroin.

Heroin is derived from morphine. Morphine is a naturally occurring substance that comes from the seed pods of various poppy plants. These poppy plants exist around the world, but most heroin comes from:

  • Asia
  • Mexico
  • South America

Heroin was first synthesized from morphine in 1874. The Bayer Pharmaceutical Company, one of the largest drug companies in the world, began manufacturing it commercially in 1898.

Bayer marketed heroin as a cough suppressant. At first, physicians didn’t recognize the potential for heroin misuse, so some prescribed it to their patients. But by 1924, all heroin use became illegal under federal law.

Heroin is considered semi-synthetic. That means morphine itself is a natural substance. But people often mix morphine with various chemicals to produce heroin.

Most drugs have street names, and people use the slang to avoid drawing attention to manufacturing, selling, or using heroin. The names usually depend on who’s using them and where they live.

Common street names include:

  • H/Big H
  • Black/Black Tar/Black Pearl
  • Smack
  • Dope
  • China White/White Stuff/White Lady/White Girl/White Boy
  • Brown/Brown Sugar/Brown Tape
  • Snow
  • Chiva/Chiba
  • Dragon
  • Scag
  • Mexican Mud

Some people smoke heroin by heating it on a surface foil and inhaling the smoke. Others snort it directly. Some people dissolve it in water and inject it intravenously (into their veins). This is often known as “shooting.”

Injection is considered the most dangerous form of heroin use. This method releases the entire heroin dose to the brain directly. It’s the method that causes the most overdoses.

Heroin is considered harmful and life-threatening for many reasons. The longer someone uses heroin, the more likely they are to experience negative effects.


All opioids can be habit-forming. They bind and activate the body’s opioid receptors. This process blocks pain while also releasing dopamine. The dopamine feels like a surge of pleasure, which makes the whole experience addictive for most people. They find themselves chasing the high and doing what they can to acquire more heroin.

Risk of Overdose

People can’t tell how pure heroin is when buying it off the street because dealers often it with other substances or narcotics. Today, many dealers cut heroin with fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, which can be 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Because users can’t calculate what they’re taking, the risk for overdose increases.

Many people who use heroin mix it with other substances—like cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, or benzodiazepines—to enhance their high or combat withdrawal symptoms. Mixing substances increases the risk of a heroin overdose.

Physical Health Risks

Heroin is associated with numerous health risks. These include:

  • Lung complications
  • Abscesses
  • Infections in the heart lining and valves
  • Collapsed veins
  • Hepatitis C
  • Cognitive imbalances

Most heroin is sold in a powder form, and it’s usually white, brown, or black. The color depends on the heroin purity and other mixed substances.

Most heroin is bitter, but different mixtures can produce different tastes. For example, heroin cut with sugar can taste sweet.

Heroin can be completely odorless. But when mixed with other substances, it can smell like various chemicals, cat urine, or even chocolate. Smoked heroin can smell sweet—like sugar, licorice, or coffee—but it can also smell like burnt food.

Heroin is a powerful sedative, which means people who use it feel relaxed, calm, and even euphoric. People who take heroin intravenously typically feel a rush of pleasure. This feeling transitions into a sense of comfort and warmth. Users often describe feeling disconnected, as if they’re in a trance.

When someone builds a tolerance to heroin, they need to take it in greater amounts to feel high. They also experience heroin withdrawals once the drug leaves their system. As a result, heroin use often becomes a vicious cycle to avoid the physical and emotional discomfort of withdrawal.

Heroin has a rapid half-life of just two to six minutes. A half-life refers to how long it takes for the amount of heroin in your body to decrease by one half. Heroin stays in the blood for up to six hours and in urine for up to three days. It can be detected in a hair follicle test for up to 90 days after the last use.

Substance use disorders are complex. It’s not uncommon to see drug problems in generation after generation of the same family. Some people may be genetically predisposed to experience stronger reactions to addictive substances, but research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors combine to influence whether someone will become addicted to a drug like heroin.

Knowing heroin facts means you can better identify it if you suspect a loved one is using it and know how to handle the situation if they are. If you or someone you know is suffering with an addiction to heroin, contact Footprints to Recovery. Our compassionate, experienced team can help you take back control over your life.

David Szarka
Medically Reviewed by David Szarka, MA, LCADC
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