Q & A: Buprenorphine and Sublocade

Michelle Rosenker

August 9, 2019

Each year, the opioid crisis claims more lives in the U.S. than car accidents. Just as most people have either been in a car accident or know someone who has, most people are either addicted to opioids themselves or know someone who is. This is a glimpse into how pervasive this epidemic is.

While the U.S. continues to see increased rates of opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose, it is also seeing higher rates of treatment admissions than ever before. As the disease of addiction becomes less stigmatized, more people who are struggling are accepting of professional treatment.

Even though just 19 percent of those with a substance use disorder in 2017 got the help they needed, that number is still important, since it shows both the acceptance of treatment and the work that remains to get more people the care they need.

Those who reach out and get help for their opioid use disorder are provided with several opportunities to stop using and learn how to maintain a life of recovery. For many, part of their treatment includes the use of medications designed to manage the effects of opioid addiction. Two of the most popular of these medications are Sublocade and buprenorphine.

Buprenorphine

The Q & A

Q: What is buprenorphine?

A: Buprenorphine is a medication derived from thebaine, a naturally occurring opioid typically found in poppy straw. It is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it only partially activates the opioid receptors in the brain when consumed. It is one of two active ingredients in Suboxone, an oral prescription medication used to help safely wean individuals off of their opioid dependence.

Q: What is Sublocade?

A: Recently approved by the FDA in 2017 for opioid use disorder treatment, Sublocade is an injectable medication that contains buprenorphine. Outside of Sublocade being an injectable—and buprenorphine being an oral medication—the biggest difference between the two is that Sublocade is an extended release version of buprenorphine that remains active in one’s system for one month.

Q: Are Sublocade and buprenorphine addictive?

A: Any medication containing an opioid can become addictive if abused. When buprenorphine and Sublocade are given, as directed, by an addiction treatment professional or other healthcare provider, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks and the likelihood of abuse or dependence is rare. However, when either medication is abused, it can become habit-forming.

It is much more common for buprenorphine to be abused than Sublocade, specifically because buprenorphine is more readily available and comes in pill or strip form. Sublocade has to be administered by a professional, so the chances of growing addicted to this medication are much less likely, though it can happen.

Q: What are the benefits of taking buprenorphine or Sublocade?

A: Both buprenorphine and Sublocade are designed to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings for those in recovery. This is the primary benefit of buprenorphine and Sublocade, as the withdrawal symptoms experienced after substance use ends can be extremely distressing (vomiting, diarrhea, sweats, chills,, depression, and a general feeling of being unwell are all typical symptoms) and the cravings can be very tempting.

Because buprenorphine and Sublocade work to partially activate the opioid receptors in the brain, both the symptoms and cravings are not as severe. Taking buprenorphine or Sublocade can also help treat long-term withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, which could otherwise compromise one’s well-being. Each medication, when taken as directed, can also aid in preventing relapse.

Q: Is Sublocade the same as Vivitrol?

A: Even though both Sublocade and Vivitrol are injectable medications used for the treatment of opioid use disorder, they are different in their effects and purpose.

As stated before, Sublocade contains buprenorphine, which is a partial opioid agonist. Vivitrol contains naltrexone, a medication that can stop the effects of opioids. In fact, Vivitrol is a full opioid antagonist, meaning that it completely blocks the opioid receptors in the brain. This is the primary difference between the two, as those who are prescribed Vivitrol must have fully detoxed before beginning use, while those on Sublocade can begin using it from the start of their treatment.

Q: How effective are buprenorphine and Sublocade?

A: Both buprenorphine and Sublocade have provided lifesaving results to people previously addicted to opioids. When taken as prescribed, it can help keep people from relapsing.

Because addiction is a disease that it unique to each person, it is difficult to quantify how effective medications like buprenorphine and Subolocade really are. However, many physicians believe that Sublocade is upwards of 80 percent effective when used appropriately. Buprenorphine is typically less effective, with an average effectiveness rate of 5 to 10 percent. The most common reason behind this drastic difference is because individuals are responsible for continuing to take via pill or dissolvable strip, leaving room for inconsistencies. Sublocade removes that element entirely, which is why it is said to be more effective.

Q: Will my insurance cover buprenorphine/Sublocade?

 A: Both buprenorphine and Sublocade can be easily obtained by the public, though restrictions do apply. Currently, most insurance companies offer coverage for buprenorphine, but other companies put most of the cost on the insured. This depends on your insurance company and your specific plan, so finding out that information can help you determine what your coverage is.

Unfortunately, the same options for coverage are not available for Sublocade. While some insurance companies offer coverage, others like Blue Cross Blue Shield do not consider it a “medically necessary” medication and so do not cover it. There is a copay program for Sublocade known as INSUPPORT that can allow clients to receive injections for $5 apiece. However, it is only applicable for those with private insurance. Those with government insurance such as Medicaid cannot receive this price.

Without any coverage at all or other options for payment, one single Sublocade injection will run you anywhere between $1,500 to $1,700.

Get Help Right Now at JourneyPure Louisville

You do not need to struggle with a substance use disorder, as there are plenty of treatment options available to you. If you are ready to stop using for good, reach out to JourneyPure Louisville. We can help you start your transformation into a life of recovery.