Sublocade (buprenorphine) is a brand-name subcutaneous injection prescribed for opioid use disorder. It works to help reduce the need for opioids by acting in certain areas of the brain called mu and kappa receptors.

Sublocade is prescribed to treat moderate to severe opioid use disorder in adults. To understand how Sublocade works, it helps to first look at opioid treatment.

About opioid treatment

An opioid is a powerful type of drug often prescribed to treat pain. Opioids include prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone (Roxicodone, OxyContin, others), fentanyl (Actiq, Fentora), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and tramadol (ConZip, Qdolo), and illegal drugs such as heroin.

Opioids work by acting on special areas in your brain called mu opioid receptors. This has a strong pain-relieving effect, but it also produces the “high” (euphoric) feeling that opioids can cause. These feelings can result in a craving for opioids.

Repeated treatment with opioids can also make your body dependent on these drugs. If you stop taking opioids, you may have symptoms of withdrawal, such as muscle aches, sweating, or diarrhea.

How Sublocade works

Sublocade contains an opioid called buprenorphine, which is widely prescribed in treatment programs for opioid use disorder. The aim of treatment is to replace other opioids with buprenorphine, and then taper off buprenorphine over time.

Buprenorphine is a type of drug called a partial opioid agonist. It acts on your mu opioid receptors. However, it doesn’t stimulate them as much as full opioid agonists, such as heroin or morphine. At the same time, it also works to block kappa opioid receptors. This helps block the action of other opioids if they’re taken while Sublocade is in your body.

This means that buprenorphine helps reduce the need for opioids, but it doesn’t produce the same euphoric feeling you may get from other opioids. Buprenorphine also helps prevent withdrawal symptoms that you may have after you stop taking other opioids.

Sublocade is an extended-release or long-acting form of buprenorphine, which means that it works over a long time. After Sublocade is injected, it reacts with your body’s fluids to form a solid mass. This mass will slowly break down over the next month, steadily releasing the drug into your bloodstream.

Over time, you’ll have a steady level of buprenorphine in the mu receptors in your brain. This can stop other opioids from acting on the receptors. So if you take other opioids during your treatment, they may not give you a feeling of euphoria.

Two phases of treatment

Opioid use disorder is treated in two phases: induction and maintenance. In the induction phase, you’ll take a form of buprenorphine under your tongue or inside your cheek. This will help reduce withdrawal symptoms as you take less or stop taking other opioids.

Once cravings and withdrawal symptoms are managed, you can move to the maintenance phase of treatment. First, you’ll stop taking the form of buprenorphine by mouth. Then you’ll start Sublocade treatment to help keep withdrawal symptoms under long-term control. Sublocade may also help curb cravings for other opioids and help prevent you from taking them during your treatment.

Sublocade starts to work right away. So cravings and withdrawal symptoms should start to be managed after your first Sublocade injection.

If you’d like to learn more about Sublocade, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can help answer any questions you have about how the drug works in your body.

If you’d like to learn about other aspects of Sublocade, you can explore these articles:

  • More information about Sublocade. For details about other aspects of Sublocade, refer to this article.
  • Side effects. To learn about side effects of Sublocade, see this article. You can also look at Sublocade’s prescribing information.
  • Drug comparison. To learn how Sublocade compares with Suboxone, read this article.
  • Dosage. For information about the dosage of Sublocade, view this article.
  • Interactions. To find out about Sublocade’s interactions, see this article.

Disclaimer: Medical News Today has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.