Is Suboxone a narcotic?

It depends on what definition you’re using. By most definitions, buprenorphine (the active ingredient in Suboxone) is a narcotic. We explore the specifics here.

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Suboxone contains two chemicals; buprenorphine and naloxone. By most definitions, buprenorphine is a narcotic (including tablet or sublingual buprenorphine used for opioid dependence ). However, by some definitions buprenorphine is a ‘medication’ when used appropriately, and a ‘narcotic’ when diverted or used outside of appropriate medical care.

We explore the use and classification of Suboxone here. Then, we invite your questions about the signs of Suboxone addiction, or general questions about Suboxone, buprenorphine, or naloxone at the end.

What is a narcotic?

‘Narcotic’ is a term with different meanings in different contexts.

  • DEA agents consider ‘narcotics’ to be drugs that are potentially abused.
  • Early 20th century dictionaries define narcotic as any illegal drug.
  • Physicians use ‘narcotic’ to refer to drugs with sedative properties, consistent with the Latin derivative of the word, narke (numbness) or narkoun (to render numb).
  • Anesthesiologists use the word ‘narcotic’ to refer to the opioid, pain-relieving portion of an anesthetic, as opposed to amnestic or paralytic agents.

Is Suboxone seen as a narcotic?

Suboxone contains two chemicals; buprenorphine and naloxone. Naloxone has no significant role in the actions of Suboxone and can be disregarded for the most part (see Can Suboxone be injected for more). However, buprenorphine is a narcotic by most definitions. It is a synthetic chemical that mimics morphine in low doses. In higher doses, the effects reach a maximum and increase no further, no matter how high the dose.

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Buprenorphine blocks receptors for opioids very tightly, preventing other opioid molecules (including heroin and oxycodone) from having clinical effects. Medications with effects like buprenorphine —a combination of activating and blocking actions – are referred to as ‘partial agonists’.

Buprenorphine is a narcotic

In sum by most definitions, buprenorphine is a narcotic. By some definitions buprenorphine is a ‘medication’ when used appropriately, and a ‘narcotic’ when diverted or used outside of appropriate medical care.

About the author
Dr. Jeffrey Junig, MD, PhD is a psychiatrist practicing in northeast Wisconsin, in recovery from opioid dependence. He is Board Certified in both Psychiatry and Anesthesiology and holds a PhD in Neuroscience. He writes about buprenorphine at Suboxone Talk Zone, and manages a forum for patients taking buprenorphine called SuboxForum.

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  1. I have been taking opioid pain meds. for many years now. Obviously, they have lost a great deal of their effect on the chronic/acute pain that I live with. A friend suggested asking my Dr. to change my meds to suboxone. How effective is this medication for chronic/acute pain? For what reason should the muscle relaxer carisoprodol not be taken with it? The answers in this brief summary about suboxone, it has not been made clear. Is this medication a narcotic or not? If it is a narcotic, why and how does it block the ability for opioid medications to work? After reading this, I’m left with more questions than I had when I first looked to check out it’s pain relieving capacity and whether it is a narcotic. If it is not an opioid, and blocks the effects of such, how can it be a narcotic? I would really appreciate some answers that would clarify the confusion about it. Thank you for answering these questions for me.

  2. Thank this information gave me all the answers I was looking for very very helpful and made to help me understand… Thank You

  3. Having a big discussion of son’s therapy. He stating / thinking his Suboxone will not show up on urine drug screen as taking an opiod. Told by ? that it is synthetic stuff ???? Dr. monitors this and its levels. If not that…what other type/category of medication is it and what does it appear as? This a very odd med. Used for addiction and also pain management for those dependent due medical need.

  4. Hi Missy, sorry to hear about your tremors, Tramadol has some pretty bad side effects in certain people & I think that’s where your tremors came from, what I would suggest is to see if you can get a script of some kind of Benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Klonipin, Ativan) those should take care of any tremors. I personally take 8/2 Suboxone films 3x daily along with my script of 2mg Xanax also 3x daily & I feel absolutely great with this, no cravings, tremors, worrying about stupid stuff, this stuff really works well for me & also it does work for pain in my situation. Hope you all find what gives you a great quality of life!

  5. I have been 5 days without suboxone (which I’ve been taking properly for the last year), I did take some Tramadol all 5 days (Which I wish I hadn’t), but I have severe Tremors, and I start Bartending next Thurs…..I am so mad at my self….Also, I am 2 years & 3 months sober & I quit Cold Turkey (although I had Subs) Any suggestions for the Tremors? I just feel awful right now 🙁

  6. I took one suboxone 8mg on 12/17/15 at 4am will it show up on my urine test on 12/21/15 I take my urine test 6:30pm. This was my first one. I go to pain management

  7. Hello, I just began Suboxone (“Sub”) on 7/3/15. I’d been on a relatively high dose of Rx methadone (“M”) for few years. My addiction began after ACL repair in Feb. ’04, & surgery for herniated disc April ’06. Recently I asked dr prescribing M to take me off bc I didn’t want to stay on such a powerful med, tho my pain can get to a pretty high level, esp the more active I am. I was his only patient on M, so he preferred I find a pain clinic. I found a dr closer to home who prescribed Sub, but 1st time I tried it, I spent the night in hospital. Apparently I didn’t taper off methadone properly. Then the dr prescribing Sub told me they couldn’t help me in switching to Sub. I didn’t want to cause a prob for the M dr bc I think very highly of him. I lucked out & found an addiction dr. So I’ve been going to him for 3 weeks & my dose steadily increased til today when they prescribed 3 strips/day (8/2 mg). Apparently, that’s max dose. I could care less about happy feeling pain meds give me anymore, I just want pain mgt. so I can enjoy my family & do simple activities (housework shopping etc) w/out being miserable. From all I’ve seen, it appears Sub is mainly used for transition off other drugs, not for pain (making me fearful Sub won’t work for my purpose). I do feel that it helps my pain, but 1 strip was not enough. I fear that it won’t be enough to control my pain. I’ll continue to follow dr’s advice, however. A question: someone told me the narcotic tricks the brain & I don’t have the pain I think I do so that I’ll want to take more. However, that’s a pretty good trick, bc I not only have pain, I have constant numbness from the back of my right buttock/leg all the way to the bottom my foot/tip of my toe. I’d ideally like to only have to take a pain med when needed (esp. family visits so I can enjoy them w/out being miserable). This dr said someday that may be possible, so I’m hopeful. Thank you for the opportunity to ask my questions, & I hope to get a reply from you. Linda

  8. I have been prescribed hydrocodone for the last 2 yrs. I had a drug test on the first of June. It came back postive for my hydrocodone but also suboxone. How is this possible if I have never taken it. Also, my boyfriend is prescribed subsolv 8mg twice daily. Could I be possibly taking sub if we kiss right after him taking it? My pain management has fired me over it.

    1. Hi Josette. The ideal maintenance dose of Suboxone sublingual film ranges between 4mg/1mg buprenorphine/naloxone and 24mg/6mg buprenorphine/naloxone per day. The dosage depends on your reaction to the medication and individual needs. Their price is usually around $8 a piece, but can vary depending on your State and region.

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