Suboxone®, a formulation of buprenorphine with naloxone, is a medicine commonly used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and has successfully helped people with opioid use disorder achieve recovery. It was originally created as an alternative to methadone, which has been around since its application to aid with heroin addiction in the 1970s. While these medications are still technically opioids, they work differently in the body than illicit, and commonly misused prescription opioids and can be helpful in recovery when taken as directed under medical supervision. These medications can still show up on certain drug screenings, and Suboxone® stays in the body for an extended period of time. It’s important to learn about how Suboxone® is processed by the body while receiving treatment.
Suboxone® in the Body
This medication is known to have a particularly long elimination half-life compared to other opioids. Half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of a single dose to leave the body. Buprenorphine typically lasts for around 37 hours, which means Suboxone® can remain detectable in the body for up to 8 days or sometimes more. Everyone’s metabolism is different so Suboxone® may stay in the body for a shorter or longer period of time than the average depending on a number of different factors including size, age, dose taken, length of active addiction and liver health.
When the liver aids the body in metabolizing Suboxone®, the metabolites created can stay in the system longer than the drug itself. Modern drug screenings have become advanced and can detect those metabolites for longer than the typical 8-day metabolic period. Blood screenings will detect the substance shortly after ingestion but have a smaller time frame to detect buprenorphine. A blood test taken two hours after a dose is ingested the best time frame. Saliva tests can detect Suboxone® for days to a week upon the last dose. Urine tests, very common among employers, show buprenorphine within just 40 minutes after ingestion. Those who use these medications or opioids for longer periods of time will show up positive for up to two weeks later as the metabolites have built up in the body. Hair follicle tests, while not as common, will detect these medications for up to 3 months after a dose is taken.
Screening for Suboxone®
Most standard drug screenings wouldn’t be testing for buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone®. So, while it is definitely possible, a standard opioid drug test used by employers would not test for it. However, in a multi-panel test where Suboxone® or methadone are specifically tested for, both would be detectable. Patients who have a prescription for Suboxone® or individuals who can prove participation in a methadone program, are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even if the substances are detected, a person could not be denied employment on those grounds.
If you are taking Suboxone® to treat opioid use disorder and have concerns regarding drug screening for potential employment, speak to your provider about laws that have been passed that make it illegal to discriminate against those who are treating their addiction while seeking work.
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