Learning more about buprenorphine’s role in substance abuse and dependence can help you fight the stigma that many people hold against medication-assisted treatment programs. It’s unfortunate that the old stigmas still exist against methadone and buprenorphine. A person with substance abuse problems from heroin, pain pills, or other opiates can participate in an opioid treatment program under specified circumstances, but they are often reluctant to do so because their families and friends look down on them.
A woman recently confided to a new acquaintance that she participates in a Suboxone treatment program at a local opioid treatment program. “But I’m not really clean,” she confessed. “I just switched one drug for another.”
“That’s not true,” said the acquaintance. “Your Suboxone gives your body what it needs to stay off dangerous opiate drugs. After all,” she said, “What if you were a diabetic? You would go to a doctor and you would not question the medication prescribed for you. Well, this is the same thing.”
People in methadone or buprenorphine treatment for substance abuse and dependence often worry about confessing their “sins” at an AA or NA meeting. In fact, many NA meetings offer little welcome to new members if they come from medication-assisted opiate treatment programs. They look down on those people, believing that the person has not quit using drugs but has only “switched one drug for another.”
Unfortunately, you will not find Methadone Anonymous groups in locations everywhere like AA or even NA. Ultimately, however, you have no obligation to tell people that you’ve chosen methadone or buprenorphine to treat your substance abuse and dependence. They don’t know what other medications you take, and you have to reason to tell them about that, either. Eventually, when you choose a sponsor, you should talk about it with that person—because you’re only as sick as your secrets—but not until then. And you definitely will benefit from the 12-step rooms, because sharing other people’s stories will help you strengthen your recovery.
What Are Those Darn Mu Receptors?
Since you’re learning more about heroin or opiate substance abuse and dependence using Suboxone or methadone, you’ve undoubtedly come across the term mu receptor before. Just what the heck is it?
The brain functions utilizing a pathway created by sensors and receptors react to pheromones, hormones, neurotransmitters, and even odors. They identify molecules in and around the brain, signaling one another and evoking a response from the brain. Proteins and peptides react to those molecules, and they are the receptors. The mu receptors are those that respond to opiate-based medications. The word mu is akin to words like alpha or delta and it stands for the M in morphine. The symbol for it is μ.
So, if your brain’s mu receptors receive too much stimulation—courtesy of heroin or pain pills—it responds by slowing down the body and releasing a flood of biochemicals that you normally experience when something wonderful happens to you. Your brain begs for more and more of it. You don’t have a chance, if you’re susceptible to this pleasure-reward response, of resisting dependence resulting from your substance abuse.
Substance abuse and dependence comes not only from heroin, but from prescription pain pills. Most people fail to recognize that the pain medications prescribed by their physicians fall into the category of full opiate drugs. Those pain pills include Vicodin, Percocet, Percodan, Lortabs, Norco, OxyCodone, and Codeine. If you see that your pill bottle is labeled with hydrocodone, hydromorphine, oxycodone, or oxymorphone, those are the generic names for some of those drugs. Many victims of substance abuse and dependence are surprised to learn that their doctor prescribed them something that falls into the opiate category, but they complain if the doctor fails to prescribe something that will relieve their pain.
Let’s Look at Suboxone, Zubsolv, and Buprenorphine
Here we’ll take a good look at generic buprenorphine, marketed with the common brand names of Suboxone, Subutex, and Zubsolv. Buprenorphine is not a full opiate agonist like heroin or opiate pain pills. It is actually called a “partial opioid agonist” meaning that when it reaches your brain, it does not fully fit into the mu receptors in the same way as the opiate drugs.
Some people say they feel like they have more energy when they are on buprenorphine. It does not have any stimulating effect on the body, but it does provide some satisfaction to the brain’s receptors without dragging them down the same way as full opiate drugs.
Suboxone carries an advantage over Subutex with the added ingredient of naloxone. The buprenorphine fills up the mu receptors, blocking them from opiate drugs. The naloxone stimulates unpleasant feelings of withdrawal if you use heroin or pain pills on top of Suboxone. People struggling with substance abuse and dependence agree that using opiates is not worth it when they’re taking Suboxone.
Zubsolv also contains buprenorphine and naloxone. Zubsolv offers the same two medications at a different dose, marketed by a different company. Both Suboxone and Zubsolv offer the same ratio of buprenorphine to naloxone at 4:1.
Insurance companies sometimes refuse to approve Suboxone or Zubsolv, requiring the patient to fight substance abuse and dependence with buprenorphine alone. They do this not for the protection of a fetus but simply because they don’t want to pay for the naloxone.
Many pregnant women are switched to generic Subutex, which is simply generic buprenorphine. While it’s important to treat heroin substance abuse and dependence during pregnancy, fewer drugs are better for the fetus; and so the naloxone is nixed from a pregnant woman’s treatment regimen.
Get Help Now
Whether you opt for methadone, which you take every day at your neighborhood methadone program, or buprenorphine, which you can take at home once you receive a prescription from the program’s doctor, don’t delay getting help for heroin or opiate substance abuse and dependence. There are too many people who have ended up on slabs at the morgue because they overestimated their ability to withstand the effects of heroin or pain pills. You also cannot tell if the drugs you’re using are tainted. Methadone and buprenorphine programs follow substantial treatment guidelines and they have been approved as safe. Be like the woman above, and don’t let other people’s doubts stop you from getting help now.