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Buprenorphine and Naloxone: Everything You Need to Know

By Manjari Bansal
Buprenorphine and naloxone is a drug combination used to treat opioid addiction, but it can be dangerous if misused. Find out more about safely using this drug combination during medication assisted treatment.

Buprenorphine and naloxone are used as a combination drug formulation to treat opioid addiction. As the opioid crisis continues to unfold, this drug combination can be an important part of a medication assisted treatment regimen for opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine/naloxone should only be used as directed by a medical professional. Read on to learn more about this drug combination and some precautions that you need to follow while using it.

What is Buprenorphine/Naloxone?

Buprenorphine and naloxone are two drugs that are combined into one medication to treat opioid use disorder or addiction, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).  

“Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it works like an opioid but has a weaker effect than 'full agonists' such as heroin,” Kathryn Lee, EdM, MA, MHC, a psychotherapist at Intuitive Healing Psychotherapy Practice in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Buprenorphine also has a “ceiling effect”, which means the effect of the drug on the body plateaus at a certain dose and doesn’t increase further. This reduces the risk of misuse, side effects, and overdose, according to NAMI.

“Buprenorphine lowers the effects of opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings,” Lee adds. This helps people to withdraw from an opioid medication with less discomfort.  

And what about naloxone? “Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it serves to reverse and block the effects of opioids,” Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care. According to the University of Michigan Health, naloxone blocks the analgesic and euphoric effects of opioids, which can promote abuse.

“Naloxone is usually combined with buprenorphine as one medication to decrease the likelihood of buprenorphine misuse. As such, the combination of buprenorphine and naloxone serves as a safe and effective form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help people maintain abstinence from opioid addiction,” Sternlicht explains.

According to Mayo Clinic, buprenorphine/naloxone combination is available in the form of:

  • Buccal film
  • Sublingual film
  • Sublingual tablet

Buprenorphine and Naloxone Safety Tips

According to the University of Michigan Health, buprenorphine/naloxone is a prescription medicine, and you should use it with caution. Misuse of this medicine can lead to addiction, overdose, or even death, especially if used by someone without a prescription. Below are some safety tips for using this medication:

  • Always follow the instructions of your prescribing doctor and the directions on the prescription label.
  • Never use this combination drug in larger amounts or for a longer period than prescribed.
  • As this medicine can cause addiction, never share it with anyone, especially if they have a history of substance abuse.
  • Place the sublingual tablet or film under your tongue and buccal film inside your cheek with dry hands. Let the medicine dissolve slowly. Never chew or swallow it.
  • Never stop using buprenorphine/naloxone suddenly, as it may cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your doctor about how to safely stop your treatment.
  • Never try to take the medicine by crushing, inhaling, or injecting it. This can be hazardous and fatal.
  • Store your medicine in a safe and secure place, away from children or pets, to prevent accidental ingestion.
  • Promptly discard any leftover medication, as even one dose can be dangerous for others.

“Do not drink alcohol or take illicit drugs while taking buprenorphine/naloxone, as it can slow breathing and lead to overdose or death,” Sternlicht adds.

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