Updated: 2019, Feb 7

The Mystery of Subutex – Safe or Not?

The Mystery of Subutex

Subutex is just one of the opioid pain medications that contains buprenorphine. It is narcotic medication used primarily to treat opioid dependence. In higher dosages, buprenorphine can be used to treat narcotic addiction (mainly heroin addictions). In small dosages, buprenorphine is used to control acute pain when individuals cannot tolerate the pain, as well as chronic pain. Subutex is taken sublingually.

Should Pregnant Women Take Subutex

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has assigned buprenorphine to pregnancy category C. What does actually mean? There are clinical studies and evidences that Subutex can cause fetal harm in animals, but there is no proof of causing harm in humans. Should mothers wish to use Subutex, it is best to consult the physician. Sometimes, even the physician provides no certain answer. However, there are very little studies done on this matter, and it considered one of the grey areas in pregnancy studies. However, it is especially harmful if mothers use it during lactating, since buprenorphine goes into the milk, and through it, to the baby. Should the mothers consume buprenorphine, it is recommended to bottle feed the baby.

Physicians prescribe Subutex, when they think that the benefits for the mother outweigh possible risks to the unborn baby. Many experts consider methadone to be the safer option when it comes to opioid dependence during pregnancy. Future mothers should notify their physician before they try to conceive, that they are using Subutex.

Risks of Subutex

Suboxone (another opioid) carries risk since it contains naloxone, a substance that can lead to rapid detoxification and physical problems for both the mother and the baby. In contrary, Subutex doesn’t contain naloxene, making it safer option for buprenorphine during pregnancy. There are however no exclusive studies done on humans when it comes to Subutex use, but some of the evidence collected show that it is not dangerous to use. Unlike methadone, Subutex doesn’t cause serious withdrawal symptoms. There are tons of researches done in this area, and abusing illicit substances is definitely not safe during pregnancy. When it comes to risks, women are primary concerned that their baby may be born with withdrawal symptoms. Prenatal use of illicit drugs always carries health risks. However, for some mothers, living a drug-free life is hard and they express fears to physical and mental pain. The biggest support has to come from friends, family and the partner, as they play a central role in pointing out the risks.

Subutex and The Baby

Everything mothers consume, passes through the placenta to the fetus. This applies for buprenorphine as well. The risk of consuming too much can lead to the baby being dependent on the drug and develop an addiction. Once the baby stops getting the medication after birth, some symptoms common for narcotic withdrawal occur. Even if the mother breastfeeds and the baby continues to get the drug through milk, the dose is simply not enough. Some of the withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced by the baby include decreased respiration (breathing), poor feeding, seizures, excessive crying, and changes in behavior (irritability).


Peony C Echavez

Peony is a registered nurse and former Director of Nursing services for a large nursing facility. She has written web content for a lar

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