pharmacist and customer discussing Sublocade
Opioid medications such as fentanyl, morphine, and tramadol are highly effective in alleviating pain. However, they are also highly addictive. Over 80,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid-induced drug overdoses in 2021. It’s not just an American crisis, either. Globally, 80% of all deaths attributable to drug overdoses are related to opioid use.

For those struggling with opioid use disorder, an alternative medication is available at Altruix called Sublocade, which can reduce withdrawal pain and craving for opioid drugs. This blog will look at Sublocade as a medication. We’ll take on some commonly asked questions about Sublocade.

What Is Sublocade?

Sublocade is the name brand of buprenorphine, an FDA-approved medication designed to treat opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine is a type of drug called a partial opioid agonist. This medication affects the receptors in the brain that cause you to feel pleasure and to alleviate pain. Opioids are full agonist drugs such as heroin, morphine, opium, and others. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist, which means that a medication like Sublocade does not cause the full opioid brain effect as fentanyl, for instance. That makes Sublocade an effective treatment to help individuals with opioid use disorder step down gradually from their addiction.

Sublocade can help prevent cravings for the opioid you are addicted to. It can help the withdrawal symptoms you typically experience if you try to quit the opioid on your own without medical care.

Can Sublocade Help Prevent Chronic Pain Like an Opioid Medication Can?

No. Sublocade cannot treat chronic pain like an opioid does. Sublocade is designed and approved to help alleviate opioid use disorder.

Opioids are very strong pain medications and have been used historically to help individuals recovering from surgery or some forms of cancer treatment. Unfortunately, opioids are now known to be inappropriate for pain management of arthritis, or lower back pain, or other chronic and debilitating disorders. That’s because taking opioids for a long period of time will almost certainly result in addiction.

Opioids have very serious risks and side effects, including the risk of addiction. The good news is that there are alternative pain medications as well as procedures that are not as dangerous as the highly addictive class of opioid medications. This could include:

  • Interventional treatments like nerve stimulation or a steroid injection
  • Non-medication treatments including acupuncture, massage, or physical therapy
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen

If your doctor prescribes an opioid, talk to them about the risks associated with addiction, side effects, and alternatives to these powerful drugs.

Is Sublocade Addictive?

woman in pain considering sublocade treatment

When misused, Sublocade can also be addictive both psychologically and physically. Sublocade is a Schedule III controlled substance that has a low to moderate risk of addiction. Schedule III drugs have been classified by the U.S. government as having a higher risk of dependency. That’s why there are special regulations regarding prescribing, dispensing, and using these drugs. 

The active substance in Sublocade, buprenorphine, can be abused, although it does have a weaker effect on the brain than a true opioid such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. 

You may experience withdrawal symptoms several months after stopping Sublocade treatments. Your doctor will work closely with you during this time to be certain you’re in recovery from the opioid use disorder before easing off the Sublocade treatments. Then they will monitor you for withdrawal symptoms from Sublocade which could include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling chilled or overheated
  • Goosebumps
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

How Is Sublocade Administered?

Your doctor will inject Sublocade just under the skin on your belly (subcutaneous delivery), and the drug is injected as a liquid but it turns into a gel inside the body. This medication is not available in pill form or as a generic. Typically, you will receive your Sublocade injections once a month. 

Your doctor will prescribe the right amount for your individual situation. However, typically, 300 mgs of Sublocade are injected each month for two months. Then you may have 100 mg for maintenance, again, depending on your need. If your withdrawal symptoms flare up on the lower dose, your doctor may revert back to the higher amount. It’s standard to wait about a month in between doses of the Sublocade medication.

People struggling with opioid use disorder benefit highly from the use of Sublocade to lessen their withdrawal symptoms. The medication is usually coupled with counseling to help counteract some of the psychological addiction that comes from opioid use disorder.

Are There Side Effects If My Doctor Prescribes Sublocade?

Pharmacist filling a Sublocade prescriptionYou may experience itching and redness at the injection site after the Sublocade injections. It’s typical to feel tired and sleepy after the treatment. Some other mild side effects could include:

  • Constipation
  • Dizziness upon standing up from a chair or from lying down
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

You can also have a mild allergic reaction to the drug, including a skin rash, itching, or red, warm skin. You may develop hives or get dizzy. However, if you experience facial swelling or trouble breathing, call your doctor.

On occasion, severe side effects can stem from the Sublocade treatment. This could include:

  • Liver damage
  • Physical dependence on Sublocade
  • Problems with the adrenal glands
  • Respiratory issues, slowed breathing, or even coma
  • Severe allergic response

Sleepiness and fatigue are two of the most common symptoms of Sublocade treatment. However, if you experience symptoms of respiratory depression, it’s time to call for help. This could include:

  • Confusion
  • Coordination problems
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Extreme sleepiness—you can’t stay awake
  • Slow, shallow breathing

If you have these symptoms, call 911. These symptoms can worsen if you’re taking other tranquilizers, antihistamines, or antidepressants. If you’re taking this or any other type of drug, make sure you tell your doctor before you start your treatment.

Sublocade is a vitally important medication to help people in their fight against opioid use disorder. It’s just one of the tools of the trade that we have at Altruix. Talk with our team if you’re struggling with opioid use disorder or have any questions about the treatment your doctor has prescribed to fight back.

Reviewed by Alexander Woody, PharmD.