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Can Suboxone Cause Liver Damage?

Suboxone is used to withdraw someone from physical dependence on opioids. Long-term use of Suboxone can cause liver damage and damage to other bodily systems.

What is Suboxone?

Opioids are one of the most addictive classes of substance in the world, and since 1999, almost one million people in the US have overdosed and died from opioid drugs. They drastically affect the body, and rapidly remap reward and pleasure pathways in the brain, causing significant changes to the neural structure of those living with addiction. Even those who are prescribed opiates and take them according to their doctor’s orders still have a significant chance of developing a tolerance and subsequently becoming addicted.

If you’re wondering what Suboxone is used for, Suboxone is a brand-name medication that is prescribed to patients struggling with opioid addiction to help them cope with the symptoms of physical dependence. 

It is available as a film or a sublingual tablet. The tablet is taken like any other pill, and the sublingual film is a thin strip that is placed under the tongue where it dissolves nearly instantly.  It consists of a combination of naloxone and buprenorphine, which are drugs that temporarily reverse the opioid effects in the brain, and a long-acting partial opioid agonist, respectively. 

Buprenorphine was FDA-approved in 2002 as a novel treatment for prescription opioid or heroin addiction. A doctor prescribes it, and when taken, it allows the patient to function more or less normally, without the need for a narcotic in their system. Naloxone is used to force the opioids off of the opioid receptors in the brain, stopping the individual from feeling the pleasurable effects of opioids. Naloxone is also used to stop the adverse effects of an overdose situation until medical attention can take over.

How Suboxone Works in Substance Use Disorder Treatment

The formulation of Suboxone is one of the core reasons why it is so effective in helping to facilitate detox and treatment. The combination of naloxone and buprenorphine is intended to make Suboxone an ideal treatment medication while also preventing it from being a viable substance to abuse. This is because it gives no pleasurable feelings other than the mitigation of some withdrawal symptoms. The question of “is Suboxone dangerous” is a firm no, when used as directed.

When a patient takes Suboxone treatments as directed by their doctor or other healthcare providers, the drug itself is designed to be nearly immune to misuse. The buprenorphine slowly releases into the body and reduces common side effects of withdrawal, as well as cravings for opioids. If the patient attempts to bypass this functionality by taking the drug intravenously, the naloxone blocks all opiate receptors and forces immediate and often uncomfortable withdrawals.

Are there Side Effects to Taking Suboxone?

Just like with any other prescription medication, there are several side effects that are to be expected when taking Suboxone. In most cases, they are manageable, though in some cases they may be more severe. Common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Sleep disruption
  • Headache
  • Backache
  • Becoming light-headed
  • Blurred vision
  • Numb tongue or mouth
  • Sweating

In addition to these symptoms, there also exists the possibility that Suboxone can cause potentially serious side effects, including damage to already-unhealthy livers. This means that those with existing liver issues or conditions may discuss alternatives with their healthcare provider, or blood tests may be needed while taking Suboxone to ensure the medication is being metabolized effectively.

Suboxone and Your Liver

The information on Suboxone mentions that there is an increased risk of liver damage if the drug is used with a patient that already has a pre-existing liver disease or similar underlying condition. While much of the research on Suboxone indicates that it has a low potential for hepatotoxicity, or becoming toxic to the liver, for some patients there may be additional testing needed. Depending on the medical history of the patient, a doctor may order a liver function assessment before prescribing the medication.

Warnings and more

While there is a smaller risk of overdose with Suboxone, it is still possible to overdose on other opioids. The signs of a Suboxone-related overdose will generally look similar to an overdose that happens through the use of other opioids. This is generally because while the Suboxone made the overdose possible, the other opioid caused it. 

This is generally due to the mechanism by which Suboxone works, particularly when functioning as an opiate antagonist. This means it flushes all other opioids out of the opioids receptors in the brain and prevents them from binding with any other opioids until it wears off. 

One reason this is dangerous for those who relapse is that the naloxone forces withdrawals, and causes a near-reset in the tolerance of the individual. This means if someone is on Suboxone and relapses, their body may not be able to handle the opioid dosage they were previously used to taking. This creates the perfect overdose situation.

Can someone take Suboxone if they have liver disease?

On one hand, liver damage is only a significant risk when Suboxone is taken long-term. On the other hand, someone facing opioid recovery isn’t looking for short-term treatment options. If a patient’s doctor isn’t positive that they can handle being prescribed Suboxone, they will often order a battery of tests to determine if the patient’s liver can properly and effectively metabolize Suboxone. 

If the tests determine that their liver cannot properly manage to metabolize the medication, or if there is some other liver condition found, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, the patient’s doctor and healthcare team will begin discussing and considering viable alternative treatments.

How to Get Help for Opioid Addiction or Suboxone Dependence

If you or someone you are close to may be living with opioid addiction or Suboxone dependence, the best first step is to find a local rehab facility and begin treatment as soon as possible. By reaching out today to a local addiction professional, you can discuss your treatment needs in a private setting, and begin exploring treatment options.