Opioid treatment can take time

Stopping opioids suddenly leads to withdrawal symptoms, while tapering prevents bad symptoms and too-rapid withdrawal may make relapse more likely.



June 9, 2020 - 9:17 AM

Dear Dr. Roach: Can you tell me the best way for a person to withdraw from Suboxone and how long it usually takes? My son was an opioid addict and has been on Suboxone for four years. He is now very gradually weaning off of it by reducing the amount he takes each week. This has been going on for months. His physician is overseeing it, and together they determine the percentage he is to reduce it by. I have since heard that this is a brutally painstaking way to do it, and that he would be better off going to a hospital and going through the withdrawal there, in a much shorter time period. Also, I’ve read that four years is a terribly long time to be on Suboxone and that he never should have been on it for that long. Can you help to clarify? — Anon.

Answer: Suboxone is a combination of two medications that partially block the effect of opioids. It is an effective treatment for opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, it is not, by itself, a treatment for opioid dependency, and should be used as part of a comprehensive treatment. This is done by an expert in addiction medicine.

Suboxone can be used for short periods of time, say four to 12 weeks. I have seen patients on it for as long as a year, but four years is beyond my experience. However, that does not mean it may not be appropriate. Stopping opioids suddenly leads to withdrawal symptoms, while tapering generally prevents these bad symptoms. Too-rapid withdrawal may make relapse more likely. 

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