Sublocade (buprenorphine) is a brand-name prescription medication. It’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat moderate to severe opioid use disorder in people who received buprenorphine products in the past.
Sublocade works to help prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings that can occur when opioid drugs are stopped. Sublocade is for use in adults along with counseling and other support.
Here are some fast facts on Sublocade:
- Active ingredient: buprenorphine
- Drug class: partial opioid agonist
- Drug form: liquid solution given as a subcutaneous injection
Sublocade is given once per month. Depending on your situation, your doctor may want you to take the drug long term.
As with other medications, Sublocade can cause certain side effects. Keep reading to learn about possible common, mild, and serious side effects. For a broad overview of Sublocade, read this article.
Sublocade can cause certain side effects, some of which are more common than others. These side effects may be temporary, lasting a few days or weeks. But if the side effects last longer than that, bother you, or become severe, be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
These are just a few of the more common side effects reported by people who took Sublocade in clinical trials:
Mild side effects can occur with Sublocade use. This list doesn’t include all possible mild side effects reported with the drug. For more information, you can refer to Sublocade’s medication guide.
Mild side effects of Sublocade can include:
- dizziness, especially when standing or sitting up
- feeling sleepy or tired*
- increased level of liver enzymes
- injection site reactions*
These side effects may be temporary, lasting a few days or weeks. But if the side effects last longer than that, bother you, or become severe, be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks side effects of the medication. If you develop a side effect while taking Sublocade and want to tell the FDA about it, visit MedWatch.
* To learn more about this particular side effect, see “Side effect specifics” below.
Sublocade may cause serious side effects. The list below may not include all possible reported serious side effects of the drug. For more information, you can refer to Sublocade’s medication guide.
If you develop serious side effects while taking Sublocade, call your doctor right away. If the side effects seem life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.
Serious side effects and their symptoms can include:
- Liver problems, including hepatitis. Symptoms can include:
- jaundice (yellowing of your skin or the white of your eyes)
- pale-colored stool
- dark-colored urine
- decreased appetite
- belly pain
- Adrenal gland damage. Symptoms can include:
- fatigue (a lack of energy)
- hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Arrhythmia (irregular heart rate or rhythm). Symptoms can include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- Physical dependence.*
- Respiratory and central nervous system depression,* which can lead to coma.
- Allergic reaction.*
* To learn more about this particular side effect, see “Side effect specifics” below.
Learn more about some of the side effects that Sublocade may cause.
Injection site reaction
Sublocade may cause injection site reactions. These are side effects that affect the skin near the area of the injection. Injection site problems were commonly reported by people who received the drug in clinical trials.
Injection site reactions may include:
- itching around where you received your shot
- skin redness or darkening
- skin hardening, possibly forming into a lump
What you can do
Injection site reactions usually go away on their own. In the meantime, avoid applying skin products to your skin in the area of the injection, as this could cause further irritation. You should also avoid rubbing or massaging the area where you received your shot.
If injection site pain becomes bothersome to you, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), may help.
If you’re not sure whether OTC pain relievers are safe for you to take, talk with your doctor. You should also talk with them if you’re concerned about any injection site reactions you may be having. They may be able to suggest other ways to ease the side effects.
Feeling sleepy or tired
It’s possible that treatment with Sublocade could cause sleepiness or tiredness. The drug could also cause you to have slow reaction times. These side effects are common, especially:
- within the first few days after you have your first Sublocade injection
- if your doctor increases your dose
- if other medications you take can make you sleepy
What you can do
Because Sublocade can make you feel sleepy or tired, you shouldn’t engage in certain activities until you know how the drug will affect you. These include driving, operating machinery, and performing other activities that may be dangerous. In case you’re unable to drive after an appointment for a Sublocade injection, ask someone to drive you.
If you’re concerned about feeling sleepy or tired while being treated with Sublocade, talk with your doctor. They can suggest treatments that may help. Or, they may decide to adjust your opioid use disorder therapy, including having you stop using Sublocade.
Respiratory and central nervous system depression
If the level of Sublocade in the body becomes too high, it may cause respiratory depression. With respiratory depression, your breathing becomes shallow, slow, or weak. Rarely, your breathing could stop.
A level of Sublocade that’s too high may also cause central nervous system (CNS) depression. With CNS depression, your brain activity slows. In severe cases, CNS depression can cause you to develop delirium or coma. Delirium is confusion about what’s real.
Although rare, both respiratory and CNS depression can, in some cases, be fatal. It isn’t known how often these side effects may have occurred in people using buprenorphine (the active drug in Sublocade) in clinical trials.
Sublocade is approved to be given only by a healthcare professional. When the drug is administered this way, your risks for respiratory or CNS depression from Sublocade are low.
Most, but not all, reports of severe respiratory or CNS depression occurred in two situations. These situations were when people either self-injected buprenorphine or used buprenorphine with other drugs that can cause the serious side effects.
Symptoms of respiratory or CNS depression
Symptoms of respiratory or CNS depression can include:
- extreme sleepiness
- fainting or dizziness
- problems with coordination
- slow, shallow breathing
- slurred speech
What you can do
If you develop symptoms of respiratory or CNS depression during your Sublocade treatment, call your doctor, 911, or your local emergency number right away.
It’s important you don’t take other medications that could cause respiratory or CNS depression, unless your doctor knows you’re taking Sublocade and prescribes the other drugs. These medications include:
- benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonapin), and diazepam (Valium)
- muscle relaxants, such as cyclobenzaprine (Fexmid) and metaxalone (Skelaxin)
- opioids, such as hydrocodone (Norco) and oxycodone (Oxycontin)
- certain sleep medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien and Ambien CR), zaleplon (Sonata), and eszopiclone (Lunesta)
If you drink alcohol, be sure to tell your doctor before taking Sublocade. They can help determine how much, if any, is safe for you to drink while receiving treatment with Sublocade. This is because alcohol is also a CNS depressant.
You’ll need to avoid these drugs and alcohol for a few months after your last dose of Sublocade as well, unless your doctor is aware and says it’s fine. This is because Sublocade can stay in your body for over a year after your last injection.
The body can become physically dependent on Sublocade. Physical dependence occurs when your body gets used to having a drug and needs it in order to function like usual. It’s not known how often this side effect may have occurred in clinical trials of Sublocade.
Because Sublocade can cause physical dependence, it’s possible to have mild withdrawal symptoms after stopping treatment with the drug. And, these symptoms may not show up until a few weeks or months after your last injection.
What you can do
At some point, you and your doctor may agree that it’s time for you to stop treatment with Sublocade. When this happens, you should be monitored for withdrawal symptoms, which can include:
These symptoms could occur a few weeks to months after your last injection. So it’s important that your doctor continues to monitor you after your last dose of Sublocade.
Talk with your doctor about what you should do if you have withdrawal symptoms. They may recommend treatments that could ease the symptoms.
As with most drugs, Sublocade can cause an allergic reaction in some people. But it’s unknown how frequently allergic reactions may have developed after Sublocade use.
Symptoms can be mild or serious and can include:
- flushing (warmth, swelling, redness, or discoloration in your skin)
- swelling under your skin, typically in your lips, eyelids, feet, or hands
- swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, which can make it hard to breathe
What you can do
For mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, call your doctor right away. They may recommend ways to ease your symptoms and determine whether you should keep taking Sublocade. But if your symptoms are serious and you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.
Sublocade may cause several side effects. Here are some frequently asked questions about the drug’s side effects and their answers.
Does Sublocade make you sleepy?
Yes, it’s possible that Sublocade can make you sleepy. This was one of the more common side effects seen in people taking the drug in clinical trials.
For more information on sleepiness due to Sublocade use, see the “Side effect specifics” section above.
Does Sublocade cause weight gain?
Weight gain wasn’t reported as a side effect in people taking Sublocade in clinical trials.
If you’re concerned about your weight while taking Sublocade, talk with your doctor.
Does Sublocade cause dependence?
Your body can become physically dependent on Sublocade. With physical dependence, your body gets used to having the drug and needs it in order to function like usual.
Because of this, it’s possible to have mild withdrawal symptoms after stopping treatment with Sublocade. And these symptoms may not show up until a few weeks or months after your last injection.
For more information, see the “Side effect specifics” section above.
Sublocade has certain warnings that may affect whether or not you can use the medication safely. Read on to learn more.
Risk of serious harm or death with injection into a vein
Sublocade has a
Sublocade is approved to be given only as a subcutaneous injection. (This is an injection just under the skin.) The drug may form a solid mass if it comes into contact with bodily fluids. Over time, the mass should shrink as your blood gradually absorbs Sublocade.
But if Sublocade is injected into a vein, the mass may form in the vein. A mass that forms in a vein may move through your bloodstream, which can be life threatening. The mass can cause damage to your tissues and organs or lead to a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in your lungs).
Due to the potential risks, your doctor can obtain Sublocade only through a special program called Sublocade Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS). The drug isn’t available at retail pharmacies. For safety reasons, only trained healthcare professionals who are REMS certified can give doses of Sublocade. In addition, clinics or offices where Sublocade is given must be REMS certified as well.
If you’d like more information about the Sublocade REMS program, talk with your doctor. You may also call 866-258-3905 or visit the Sublocade REMS website.
Sublocade is approved to be given only by a trained healthcare professional. It must not be injected into a vein, and you should not self-inject Sublocade doses.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about your health history before you take Sublocade. This drug may not be the right treatment for you if you have certain medical conditions or other factors that affect your health. The conditions and factors to consider include:
Liver problems. If you have moderate or severe liver problems, you shouldn’t take Sublocade. Studies of Sublocade in people with these problems found they had higher blood levels of the drug than usual. Also, Sublocade stayed in their body longer than usual. But it isn’t known how moderate or severe liver problems impact the safety and effectiveness of the drug. The effects weren’t observed in people with mild liver problems. So it may be safe to receive Sublocade if you have a mild liver problem. Your doctor can help determine whether your liver problem is mild, moderate, or severe.
Gallbladder problems. Sublocade can make existing gallbladder problems worse. So if you have a gallbladder problem, you may not be able to safely take Sublocade. Talk with your doctor about other treatments that may be better for you than Sublocade.
Abnormal heart rhythm or rate. Sublocade may affect your heart’s electrical activity. So if you or an immediate family member has, or has had, a type of abnormal heart rhythm called long QT syndrome, Sublocade isn’t safe for you to take. (Long QT syndrome can be hereditary.) And, if you’re taking a medication for an abnormal heart rhythm or rate, you shouldn’t receive Sublocade. Talk with your doctor about other treatments that may be better for you than Sublocade.
Recent head injury or brain problem. It’s possible that Sublocade can increase fluid pressure in your brain or spinal cord. If you already have a brain problem or head injury, this can be dangerous. Sublocade may also make you sleepy or make your pupils shrink. Because of this, taking the drug can make it more difficult to monitor the status of your head injury or brain problem. Talk with your doctor about other treatments that may be better for you than Sublocade.
Lung problems. Rarely, Sublocade may cause respiratory depression. If you have an existing condition that affects your breathing, you may be at higher risk. Examples of these conditions include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and sleep apnea. Talk with your doctor about what treatment is right for you.
Adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease. Taken long term, Sublocade can cause problems with your adrenal glands. If you have a history of adrenal gland problems, such as Addison’s disease, Sublocade may make your existing condition worse. Talk with your doctor about other treatments that may be better for you than Sublocade.
Allergic reaction. You shouldn’t take Sublocade If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to Sublocade or any of its ingredients. Talk with your doctor about which other treatments are better choices for you.
Alcohol use with Sublocade
If you drink alcohol, be sure to talk with your doctor before taking Sublocade. This is because alcohol, like Sublocade, is a type of substance known as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Taking a CNS depressant may cause a condition called CNS depression. (For more information on CNS depression, see the “Side effect specifics” section above.)
Your doctor can help determine how much alcohol, if any, is safe for you to drink while receiving treatment with Sublocade.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding while taking Sublocade
Here’s some information on whether you can take Sublocade while pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you’re receiving Sublocade during pregnancy, it’s possible that your child may develop physical dependence on the drug. This means they may be born with a condition called neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) and require treatment for opioid withdrawal at birth.
Symptoms of NOWS can include:
- trouble sleeping
- crying much more than usual
- being easily frustrated or upset
- not gaining weight
In addition, receiving Sublocade for a long time can make it harder than usual to become pregnant. The drug can reduce fertility in males and females.* (Fertility is the ability to become pregnant or cause someone to become pregnant.)
Talk with your doctor if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy. They can advise you on the right treatment plan for you.
* Sex and gender exist on spectrums. Use of the terms “male” and “female” in this article refers to sex assigned at birth.
Sublocade can pass into breast milk. This may cause harmful effects to a breastfed child, such as severe drowsiness or trouble breathing.
Before you start taking Sublocade, tell your doctor if you’re breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. They can advise you on the best treatment plan for you.
The active drug in Sublocade is buprenorphine, which is a Schedule III controlled drug. This means it has potential for misuse and can cause physical and psychological dependence.
Misuse means taking a drug in a way other than how it’s prescribed. Dependence means your body needs a drug in order to function like usual.
People prescribed a medication that contains buprenorphine, such as Sublocade, should be monitored for diversion, misuse, and addictive behaviors. (“Diversion” refers to selling or giving prescription drugs to other people.) If Sublocade is misused by being injected into a vein, there’s a risk of serious harm or death.*
The Sublocade Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program helps minimize the potential for diversion and misuse. Your doctor can obtain Sublocade only through the REMS program. The drug isn’t available at retail pharmacies. Due to safety reasons, only trained healthcare professionals who are REMS certified can give doses of Sublocade. In addition, clinics or offices where Sublocade is given must be REMS certified as well.
For more information about the Sublocade REMS program, talk with your doctor. You may also call 866-258-3905 or visit the Sublocade REMS website.
Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms
Because Sublocade can cause physical dependence, it can also cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop receiving it.
It’s possible that physical dependence and the desire to avoid withdrawal (by continuing to use Sublocade) can lead to drug-seeking behavior and misuse. For more information, see “Physical dependence” in the “Side effect specifics” section above.
Sublocade can cause side effects in some people. Most side effects from Sublocade are mild, go away with time, and don’t require medical attention.
If you’d like to learn more about Sublocade, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can help answer any questions you have about side effects from taking the drug. You can also talk with your doctor if you’re interested in more information on opioid use disorder.
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.