Four years after posting this interview with Dr. Steven Scanlan of Palm Beach Outpatient Detox, I’m still getting mail about how to tolerate Suboxone withdrawal. This piece and a couple others I’ve written rank in the top 10 in Google searches, and over the years I’ve been so deluged with comments and private emails about people’s struggles to get free of this drug that I keep a huge separate file for them all. I’ve talked or exchanged emails with some of these folks, and eventually I plan to put out a booklet that collects people’s experiences with this drug that is—depending on where you live—variously doled out like candy by doctors who don’t understand its strength, or available only if you drive two hours or three hours through the wilderness and pay cash to doctors who run their Suboxone clinics like whorehouses.

A reader named Bob wrote this morning:

I was using 16mg a day for 2 1/2 years, I was in excellent physical shape, ran 4 times a week, multiple half marathons, but felt enslaved to this drug. I went to an out-patient 6 week detox program, just in one week I went from 16 to 8 a day, next week went down to 4 a day, then the following week I went down to 2mg a day for a week before I “jumped”, I stayed off of it for 2 days, had ungodly withdrawals, so they gave me 2mg for one more day, I then went 9 straight days with nothing before I did 4mg on a relapse, now I am at day 6 with nothing. I am a business owner and cannot afford to be ” on my game”…any ideas as to when it gets to be ” manageable?”

I think Bob meant he couldn’t afford to be OFF his game. It seems like, in his detox center, they wouldn’t let him taper down to the minuscule doses that are most helpful in Suboxone detox. Many, many practitioners prescribing this drug do not understand its pharmacokinetics—how it behaves in the body, and how the body processes and neutralizes it. They think 2mg is a small amount.

 

A Suboxone film, cut for tapering.

A Suboxone film, cut for tapering.

Look at this picture. This is how some people taper off Suboxone. They cut the dissolvable films into little bitty pieces. The company that makes Suboxone does not advise doing this, because they say they can’t guarantee the drug is evenly distributed throughout the film, but guess what?—I think it’s because they don’t want people to taper off it. I’ve talked to Tim Baxter, M.D., global medical director of Reckitt Benckiser, manufacturer of Suboxone. In two separate interviews he told me, “We don’t promote detox.” They want you to stay on this drug. But you don’t have to.

Disclaimer: I’m not a physician, I’m just sharing experience and making space for many others to share theirs. If you want medical advice, you need to see a doctor. ... That said, Bob, 2mg is a significant amount of bupe to jump from. Like jumping from about 60 or 70mg of morphine (the gold standard drug to which all other opioids are compared in their analgesic and receptor-binding strength). I was tapering off the equivalent of 400-500mg morphine per day, and I used Suboxone for two months. I jumped off about 1/8 of a milligram—the tiniest bit in the photo above. Dr. Scanlan and other doctors who understand buprenorphine, the opioid drug in Suboxone, taper people down to fractions of a milligram before they jump.

So you’ve been six days clean after taking 4mg, and you continue to be physically active? Awesome job. Keep it up.

Some tips—take what you need and leave the rest:

  • Get good food. Eat no sugar, no caffeine, and as much organic protein (meat, fish) and vegetables and fruits as you can. Fuel your body well.
  • Get good sleep. Don’t take sleep aids, except for maybe benadryl or melatonin, which Dr. Scanlan prescribes during Suboxone detox (see above). A low dose of gabapentin helped settle my legs and get sleep. Hot baths also did the same thing—fill your tub with scalding water and enjoy feeling your muscles relax. Scanlan also prescribes Librium (chlorodiazepoxide)—if you can get a provider to help you for a month or so by prescribing a low dose of this, it may help you sleep.
  • Keep exercising. This will ease your restless legs and arms, reset your opioid receptors, and increase your energy levels and your appetite for good food. Yoga is also effective to stretch and relax the muscles that feel cramped and jumpy.
  • Meditate. Research shows that for recovering addicts, meditation restores the connection between the limbic brain (the part where cravings live) and the prefrontal cortex (the part that lets us make good decisions). In detox and post-acute withdrawal, meditation calmed my mind and helped me understand that every goddam moment of detox passes and that I could make good choices to foster my health.
  • Read Dr. Scanlan’s paper about Suboxone detox. Pay special attention to the section called “The Jump,” in which he says he tapers people down to very low amounts and advises his patients to stop the drug when they have a week or two to take it easy on themselves.
  • Find a supportive community. Anyone who has been taking Suboxone is struggling with an addiction. And nobody gets sober alone. We all have to learn to ask for help. When I was detoxing, I needed to be in touch with people every day. I did this partly on the public forum Opiate Detox Recovery (which has a special Suboxone forum), and partly in a 12-step program, where I got a sponsor who I called almost every day, and where I went to meetings where I met people who had done what I was trying to do and were holding down jobs, raising kids, and most of all being happy.

Even more information about how to take care of yourself while detoxing and dealing with post-acute withdrawal is included in my book, The Recovering Body, which you can get on Amazon and in your local independent bookstore. 

Edit: Here is an email from a guy called Larry that came in several days after Bob’s:

I’m a 60 yr old male engaged in hiking, climbing and biking.  I’ve had a 15 year long opiate addiction.  I’ve used suboxone for 2 years.  I started at 4mg.  I requested the low dose as I felt 8mg/16mg was more than I needed.  I reduced my dosage from 4mg to 1 mg over 4 months,  from 1mg to .25mg over another 4 months.  I jumped off from .25mg  ( 1/8 of a 2mg strip).  I had moderate WDs for a week, 3 weeks of significant lethargy and continuing mild lethargy.  I’ve been clean for 2 months.   I can feel it getting better and I’m staying the course.  I really don’t have any choice.  The alternatives are all non starters for me.

If you don’t make it this time, taper to a lower dose, no more than .25 mg.  It’s worth doing.

(Emphasis mine. 🙂 ) Fifteen years on opioids, and he’s now free. Congratulations, Larry.

Good luck to Bob, Larry, and the countless people out there who are trying to get free. Let us know how it goes.

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