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What happens if you swallow Subutex?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on May 16, 2023.

Official answer


While swallowing Subutex (buprenorphine) is unlikely to be harmful, it will reduce how much medicine your body takes in and make the medicine much less effective. Subutex is readily absorbed into your bloodstream through the gastrointestinal and mucosal membranes. But because of what scientists call “first-pass metabolism,” if you swallow Subutex instead of letting it dissolve under your tongue, only a very small amount of the medicine will be absorbed.

Subutex is a prescription medicine used to treat adults who are addicted to opioid drugs. The active ingredient in Subutex is buprenorphine. It is administered as a tablet that you dissolve under your tongue, and it should never be chewed or swallowed. Even talking while the tablet is dissolving can lower the amount of medicine absorbed.

To take Subutex correctly:

  • Only take as much as your doctor tells you. Do not take more or less than you are prescribed.
  • You will place the tablet under your tongue.
  • Wait and keep your mouth and tongue still until it dissolves completely.
  • Your doctor should give you instructions on exactly how much Subutex to take, how often and how to take multiple tablets if they are prescribed.

Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Subutex, is what’s known as an opioid partial agonist. At low to moderate doses, it produces effects such as euphoria (a “high”) and relaxed breathing. But with buprenorphine, these effects are weaker than those experienced with full opioid agonists, such as methadone or heroin. When used as directed by your doctor, Subutex diminishes the effects of physical dependence to opioids, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and lowers the potential for misuse.

It’s important that you follow certain safety precautions when taking Subutex:

  • Don’t take other medications without first consulting your doctor.
  • Don’t use illegal drugs or any other medications that can slow breathing.
  • Make sure that your doctor monitors any liver-related health issues.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
  • Don’t share Subutex with anyone, even if they have similar conditions.
  • Prevent children or pets from accidentally ingesting the medicine by storing it safely.
  1. Welsh C, Valadez-Meltzer A. Buprenorphine: A (Relatively) New Treatment for Opioid Dependence. Psychiatry. 2005 Dec; 2(12):29-39. Available at:
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Highlights of Prescribing Information: Subutex (buprenorphine sublingual tablets) for sublingual administration. February 2018. Available at: [Accessed April 21, 2021].
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Buprenorphine. March 12, 2021. Available at: [Accessed April 21, 2021].

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