Will Suboxone Show Up in a Drug Test?Anna Ciulla
Are you worried that the suboxone you’ve been taking will show up in a drug test? Whether you’ve been on suboxone as part of prescription opiate short-term detox treatment, long-term suboxone maintenance, or have been abusing suboxone following long-term use, the concern that the drug may show up in a drug test you need to take is a legitimate one. In today’s society, drug testing has become more commonplace, given the skyrocketing rates of opiate addiction, prescription and illicit drug use, as well as alcohol use. You may, for example, be required to take a drug test as a requirement for employment, either prior to being hired or randomly as part of company policy. You also may be required to take a specific drug test as ordered by a court.
Here are some facts about how long suboxone stays in your system and how its presence (or not) in your system will show up in drug testing.
HOW LONG DOES SUBOXONE STAY IN YOUR SYSTEM?
The key to answering the question of whether suboxone will show up in a drug test entails a more detailed explanation of how long suboxone stays in your system. Studies have shown that buprenorphine (the opiate compound in suboxone) takes around 11 days to be eliminated from the body. However, the time can vary considerably depending on medication dosage, how long the medication has been used, and vary between individuals. Other variables that can influence how long it takes suboxone to be eliminated from the body include the person’s health and metabolism.
Suboxone has a relatively long half-life of 37 to 48 hours, or even up to 72 hours, depending on which expert source you research. What is the drug’s half-life? This is the amount of time it takes for half of a given drug’s dose to be eliminated from the body or bloodstream. In general, drugs with a longer half-life take longer for the body to eliminate a single dose. Suboxone specifically, a medication that is more slowly eliminated from blood plasma, remains at effective doses for longer periods of time, from days to weeks or longer.
How a Drug’s Half-Life is Quantified
There are two ways that a drug’s half-life is quantified: the biological or elimination half-life, and the plasma half-life.
- Biological or elimination half-life is how long it takes for the drug’s bioactivity to be reduced by 50 percent of the initial value.
- The plasma half-life is how long it takes for the drug’s concentration in the bloodstream to be reduced by 50 percent.
Clearance and volume of distribution are two other terms that are related to a drug’s half-life. Clearance is how fast (speed) the drug is eliminated from blood plasma. The volume of distribution, on the other hand, refers to a measurement of how much of the drug is distributed in the tissues of the body.
Factors Influencing How Long a Drug Lasts
Multiple factors can influence how long a drug remains in a person’s system. These include a person’s metabolism, the liver and kidneys, and other medications the person is currently taking, even the individual’s age and sex.
Metabolism – A person’s metabolism can change the rate of a drug’s clearance from his or her bloodstream, as well as affect how quickly the drug is processed.
Liver and Kidneys – These vital organs play an essential role in a drug’s elimination from the body. The liver is the site of a drug’s metabolism, while the kidneys are essential in the process of blood filtration. Healthy liver and kidneys are important to ensure both a better drug clearance rate and half-life.
Other Medications – The presence of other medications a person may be taking also influence how long a drug – such as suboxone – remains in the system. These medications can interact with the suboxone and each other and potentially modify the half-life or any or all of the drugs.
Age and Sex – Other factors affecting how quickly a drug is eliminated from the system include the age and sex of the individual. Men and women may react differently to different drugs, and younger or older adults may have quicker or slower metabolisms that also affect a drug’s elimination rate.
When Do the Effects of a Drug Begin to Wear Off?
A common concern is at what point the effects of a drug – such as suboxone – begin to wear off. According to experts, a drug’s effects typically begin to taper off at the stage the drug reaches its first half-life and 90 to 95 percent of the drug is eliminated after four cycles. If, for example, a drug has a half-life of 10 hours, it will take roughly 40 hours for about 95 percent of the drug to be eliminated from the blood plasma. With suboxone’s relatively long half-life of 37 hours (a general, although commonly mentioned half-life for the drug), that would mean it could take 148 hours for about 95 percent of the drug to be eliminated from the system. That’s a little over six days or about a week. Again, multiple factors can affect how quickly a drug like suboxone can be eliminated from the system, so it doesn’t show up in a drug test.
HOW QUICKLY DO DRUGS SHOW UP IN DRUG TESTS?
Another major concern to anyone who may be required to take a drug test, perhaps for employment or because it is mandated by a court, is how soon after consumption of the drug does it show up in drug tests. Experts in drug testing say that this is not an exact science and it also depends on the type of drug test: urine, hair or oral fluid testing. Suboxone, according to experts, can usually show up in drug tests within 2 to 5 hours after ingestion.
- Urine drug test — A drug will generally show up in urine testing from between 4 to 5 hours or 8 to 12 hours. A urine drug test, then, will only detect the presence of a drug consumed within the last 1 to 4 days.
- Oral fluid test — For oral fluid testing, a drug can show up in a few hours after use and be detectable for 1 to 2 days. This type of test can detect the use of drugs within the first 4 to 5 hours after use, a result which would likely be missed by urine or hair testing.
- Hair test — Hair testing for the presence of drugs, however, takes roughly a week for the drug to appear. This type of drug test will detect drugs taken up to 3 months prior to testing – but will miss drug use that took place 7 to 10 days before testing.
What Are the Different Panel Drug Tests?
There are different panels used for drug tests that allow the company or entity ordering them to focus broadly or more specifically to test for the presence and recent use of certain drugs and/or alcohol. While drug tests can be customized, most companies stick with the standard drug panels, which basically test for the presence or recent use of a specified number of drugs, indicating specific drugs to be tested to match the company’s employee screening policies. It is important to note, however, that there is not a universal test for any drug panels, although these are examples of standard drug panels:
- 4-panel – In the 4-panel test, for example, testers could check for recent use of cocaine, THC (marijuana), methamphetamine, and opiates (heroin, morphine, codeine). They could also test for benzodiazepines, ecstasy, methadone, and oxycodone. With recent legislation on medical and recreational marijuana, however, employers may adjust their mandated drug panels to eliminate marijuana and include another drug instead.
- 5-panel – This is the most commonly ordered panel for drug testing. It is used by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for positions that are safety-sensitive and regulated by DOT agencies. It screens (tests) for the presence of amphetamines (and methamphetamines), cocaine, marijuana, opiates (including codeine, heroin, morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone), and PCP (phencyclidine).
- 6-panel – Drugs this test screens for include amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, cocaine, opiates, and PCP.
- 7-panel – Screening in the 7-panel test looks for recent use of amphetamines, barbiturates (sedatives), benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, methadone, and PCP. It could also substitute marijuana for methadone. Experts in drug panel testing say the 7-panel test is one an employer may order when there is a concern an employee may be abusing prescription drugs. This is especially important in companies where employees must be alert or operate heavy machinery.
- 8-panel – Drugs screened for in this test include amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, cocaine, opiates, methadone, and PCP.
- 9-panel – The 9-panel test checks for use of amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methadone, methaqualone, opiates, PCP, and propoxyphene.
- 10-panel – Civil servants, employees in law enforcement and occupational medicine, as well as someone on legal probation (to test whether terms of the probation are being violated) often have to have a 10-panel drug test. This test includes 5-panel drugs and adds screening for barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone, methaqualone, and propoxyphene.
- 11-panel –This panel drug test screens for amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methadone, opiates, oxycodone, PCP, Quaaludes, marijuana, and tricyclic antidepressants.
- 12-panel – A much more comprehensive test, the 12-panel can test for extended opiates and abuse/misuse of prescription painkillers. It checks for recent use/presence of amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, cannabinoids, cocaine, methadone, methaqualone, opiates, oxycodone, PCP, and propoxyphene.
- 13-panel — The most extensive (non-customized) test is the 13-panel. In this test, testers are checking for use of amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, buprenorphine, cannabinoids, cocaine, methadone, methaqualone, opiates, oxycodone, PCP, propoxyphene, and tricyclic antidepressants.
Do Drug Tests Check for Suboxone?
Here’s some good news regarding drug testing for the presence of suboxone – rather, the buprenorphine that is the opiate compound in suboxone – unless the drug tests ordered specify a panel that looks specifically for buprenorphine, it’s not going to show up in standard panels that check for opiates. A 12-panel plus a special-panel suboxone test will check for suboxone use. Buprenorphine can be added to a 10-panel test with screening for expanded opiate testing.
However, you may not know what kind of drug testing will be performed in your case, whether it includes a panel to test for buprenorphine, or whether it comprises an oral fluid, urine and/or hair drug testing. You can ask your employer (or whatever entity requires the testing), but the answer may or may not be forthcoming. After all, drug testing has a purpose – to detect drug use that occurred during a particular timeframe or is current.
If I Stop Taking Suboxone, Will I Go Into Withdrawal?
Discontinuing suboxone you’ve been prescribed to take as part of opiate detox (medication-assisted treatment) or going cold-turkey after long-term suboxone use just to clear a drug test is not recommended. For one thing, you risk going into suboxone withdrawal, which may happen within a few days and be much more severe if you’re a chronic (long-term user). Besides, unless a specific panel to test for the presence of buprenorphine (the opiate compound in suboxone), you shouldn’t be concerned for a positive drug test result.
For more about suboxone, treatment and recovery, check out these articles:
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National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. 6th Edition.” “Principles of Pharmacokinetics.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK12815/
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U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “Half-Life of a Drug.” Retrieved from https://www.usada.org/drug-half-life/
U.S. Drug Test Centers. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Retrieved from https://www.usdrugtestcenters.com/question-categories.html
U.S. Drug Test Centers. “Testing for Suboxone.” Retrieved from https://www.usdrugtestcenters.com/suboxone-drug-testing.html
WiseGeek.com. “What does a Drug’s Half-Life Mean?” Retrieved from https://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-a-drugs-half-life-mean.htm