Side Effects in the Landscape of Opioid Use Disorder Drugs

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a widespread public health concern, affecting millions of individuals globally. 

Globally, over 16 million individuals contend with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), as emphasized by the National Library of Medicine. In the United States alone, more than 2.1 million cases of OUD have been reported. 

In the quest to address this crisis, pharmaceutical interventions have been developed to help individuals overcome their dependence on opioids. However, it’s essential to recognize that these medications, while beneficial, may come with concerning side effects. 

In this article, we delve into five opioid use disorder drugs and shed light on the potential drawbacks associated with their use.


Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that has been a cornerstone in OUD treatment for decades. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, this medication can reduce the risk of death from opioid overdose by up to 50%. 

While it effectively mitigates cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with OUD, it is not without its drawbacks. 

Serious and potentially life-threatening respiratory depression can occur with the use of methadone hydrochloride tablets, as outlined by The respiratory depressant effect peaks later and lingers longer than the analgesic effect, especially during treatment initiation or after a dose adjustment.

 This phenomenon is especially noteworthy during the initiation of treatment or following a dose adjustment. 

Vigilant monitoring for respiratory depression, particularly during initiation or dose increases, is crucial. 

Additionally, methadone usage has been associated with QT interval prolongation, heightening the risk of arrhythmias, and necessitating thorough and attentive monitoring.

Suboxone (Buprenorphine/Naloxone):

Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, is designed to deter misuse. Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, is included to counteract the effects of buprenorphine in the event of injection. While this combination reduces the risk of abuse, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely. 

Notably, in January 2022, the FDA issued a public warning about dental problems linked to buprenorphine medications dissolved in the mouth. TorHoerman Law highlights the legal implications, asserting that drug manufacturers bear the responsibility of adequately warning healthcare providers and consumers about potential side effects. 

The failure of Suboxone makers to issue warnings before 2022 has led to the filing of the Suboxone tooth decay lawsuit. These legal actions are now consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

As of February 2024, Drugwatch reports that 51 Suboxone tooth decay lawsuits are currently pending.


Clonidine, a non-opioid medication, is sometimes used to manage withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid cessation. While it can alleviate certain discomforts like anxiety and hypertension, it comes with its own set of side effects. 

According to the National Health Service, these side effects include feelings of confusion, difficulties in comprehending one’s surroundings, and hallucinations.

Additionally, the medication may result in symptoms such as stomach pain, vomiting, and constipation. When these occur simultaneously, it could indicate a rare condition known as pseudo-obstruction of the large bowel.


Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist, has gained popularity for its role in OUD treatment. 

A study conducted by MDPI revealed that a 100-day buprenorphine treatment was associated with a significant 36% reduction in the risk of opioid overdose. This effect was observed among patients with opioid use disorder who had received at least one buprenorphine dispensing.

Despite having a lower risk of respiratory depression in comparison to full agonists like methadone, it is not without its share of adverse effects. These may encompass symptoms such as nausea, constipation, and headaches. 

Moreover, the potential for misuse, particularly through methods like injection, can induce precipitated withdrawal- a swift and intense onset of withdrawal symptoms. This poses a significant risk, especially when patients are not under adequate monitoring.


Naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist, works by blocking the effects of opioids. Its use in OUD treatment, particularly in the form of a monthly injection (Vivitrol), offers an alternative for individuals seeking non-opioid-based options. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, completion rates for rapid opiate detoxification using naltrexone and clonidine range from 75% to 81%. This outperforms the 40% rate observed when methadone is used in conjunction with clonidine alone. 

Despite its efficacy, naltrexone is not without potential drawbacks. Regular monitoring for hepatotoxicity is imperative due to its association with liver function abnormalities. 

Moreover, discontinuing opioids suddenly while on naltrexone can heighten the risk of overdose in the event of a relapse. This underscores the need for vigilant supervision during treatment.

In conclusion, as we navigate the landscape of opioid use disorder drugs, it is crucial to recognize both their benefits and potential pitfalls. Careful consideration of these aspects is essential for informed and effective treatment strategies. 

Healthcare professionals must carefully weigh the risks and benefits, tailoring treatment plans to individual needs. Additionally, providing thorough patient education is crucial to ensuring the safe and effective use of these medications in the battle against opioid use disorder.

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