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Mechanism of Action

ZUBSOLV sublingual tablet contains buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist at the mu-opioid receptor and an antagonist at the kappa-opioid receptor. Naloxone is a potent antagonist at mu-opioid receptors and produces opioid withdrawal signs and symptoms, if administered parenterally, in individuals physically dependent on full opioid agonists.


ZUBSOLV has been shown to have different bioavailability compared to SUBOXONE tablet. One ZUBSOLV 5.7 mg/1.4 mg tablet provides equivalent buprenorphine exposure and 12% lower naloxone exposure to one SUBOXONE 8 mg/2 mg tablet. The pharmacodynamic information of other currently marketed buprenorphine/naloxone-containing sublingual products is not directly comparable on a mg basis to ZUBSOLV. (see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTARTION) .

Subjective Effects

Comparisons of buprenorphine to full opioid agonists such as methadone and hydromorphone suggest that sublingual buprenorphine produces typical opioid agonist effects which are limited by a ceiling effect.

In opioid-experienced subjects who were not physically dependent, acute sublingual doses of Suboxone tablets produced opioid agonist effects which reached a maximum between doses of 8/2 mg and 16/4 mg buprenorphine/naloxone.

Opioid agonist ceiling-effects were also observed in a double-blind, parallel group, dose-ranging comparison of single doses of buprenorphine sublingual solution (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, or 32 mg), placebo and a full agonist control at various doses. The treatments were given in ascending dose order at intervals of at least one week to 16 opioid-experienced subjects who were not physically dependent. Both active drugs produced typical opioid agonist effects. For all measures for which the drugs produced an effect, buprenorphine produced a dose-related response. However, in each case, there was a dose that produced no further effect. In contrast, the highest dose of the full agonist control always produced the greatest effects. Agonist objective rating scores remained elevated for the higher doses of buprenorphine (8-32 mg) longer than for the lower doses and did not return to baseline until 48 hours after drug administration. The onset of effects appeared more rapidly with buprenorphine than with the full agonist control, with most doses nearing peak effect after 100 minutes for buprenorphine compared to 150 minutes for the full agonist control.

Physiologic Effects

Buprenorphine in IV (2, 4, 8, 12 and 16 mg) and sublingual (12 mg) doses has been administered to opioid-experienced subjects who were not physically dependent to examine cardiovascular, respiratory, and subjective effects at doses comparable to those used for treatment of opioid dependence. Compared to placebo, there were no statistically significant differences among any of the treatment conditions for blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, O2 saturation, or skin temperature across time. Systolic BP was higher in the 8 mg group than placebo (3-hour AUC values). Minimum and maximum effects were similar across all treatments. Subjects remained responsive to low voice and responded to computer prompts. Some subjects showed irritability, but no other changes were observed.

The respiratory effects of sublingual buprenorphine were compared with the effects of methadone in a double-blind, parallel group, dose ranging comparison of single doses of buprenorphine sublingual solution (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, or 32 mg) and oral methadone (15, 30, 45, or 60 mg) in non-dependent, opioid-experienced volunteers. In this study, hypoventilation not requiring medical intervention was reported more frequently after buprenorphine doses of 4 mg and higher than after methadone. Both drugs decreased O2 saturation to the same degree.

Effect of Naloxone

Physiologic and subjective effects following acute sublingual administration of buprenorphine tablets and Suboxone tablets were similar at equivalent dose levels of buprenorphine. Naloxone had no clinically significant effect when administered by the sublingual route, although blood levels of the drug were measurable. Buprenorphine/naloxone, when administered sublingually to an opioid-dependent cohort, was recognized as an opioid agonist, whereas when administered intramuscularly, combinations of buprenorphine with naloxone produced opioid antagonist actions similar to naloxone. This finding suggests that the naloxone in buprenorphine/naloxone tablets may deter injection of buprenorphine/naloxone tablets by persons with active substantial heroin or other full mu-opioid dependence. However, clinicians should be aware that some opioid-dependent persons, particularly those with a low level of full mu-opioid physical dependence or those whose opioid physical dependence is predominantly to buprenorphine, abuse buprenorphine/naloxone combinations by the intravenous or intranasal route. In methadone-maintained patients and heroin-dependent subjects, IV administration of buprenorphine/naloxone combinations precipitated opioid withdrawal signs and symptoms and was perceived as unpleasant and dysphoric. In morphine-stabilized subjects, intravenously administered combinations of buprenorphine with naloxone produced opioid antagonist and withdrawal signs and symptoms that were ratio-dependent; the most intense withdrawal signs and symptoms were produced by 2:1 and 4:1 ratios, less intense by an 8:1 ratio.



Plasma levels of buprenorphine and naloxone increased with the sublingual dose of ZUBSOLV sublingual tablet. There was wide inter-patient variability in the sublingual absorption of buprenorphine and naloxone, but within subjects the variability was low. Both Cmax and AUC of buprenorphine increased with the increase in dose (in the range of 1.4 to 11.4 mg), although the increase was not directly dose-proportional. Naloxone did not affect the pharmacokinetics of buprenorphine.

ZUBSOLV has been shown to have different bioavailability compared to SUBOXONE tablet. One ZUBSOLV 5.7 mg/1.4 mg tablet provides equivalent buprenorphine exposure and 12% lower naloxone exposure to one SUBOXONE 8 mg/2 mg tablet.


Buprenorphine is approximately 96% protein bound, primarily to alpha and beta globulin.

Naloxone is approximately 45% protein bound, primarily to albumin.


Buprenorphine undergoes both N-dealkylation to norbuprenorphine and glucuronidation. The N-dealkylation pathway is mediated primarily by the CYP3A4. Norbuprenorphine, the major metabolite, can further undergo glucuronidation. Norbuprenorphine has been found to bind opioid receptors in-vitro; however, it has not been studied clinically for opioid-like activity. Naloxone undergoes direct glucuronidation to naloxone-3-glucuronide as well as N-dealkylation, and reduction of the 6-oxo group.


A mass balance study of buprenorphine showed complete recovery of radiolabel in urine (30%) and feces (69%) collected up to 11 days after dosing. Almost all of the dose was accounted for in terms of buprenorphine, norbuprenorphine, and two unidentified buprenorphine metabolites. In urine, most of buprenorphine and norbuprenorphine was conjugated (buprenorphine, 1% free and 9.4% conjugated; norbuprenorphine, 2.7% free and 11% conjugated). In feces, almost all of the buprenorphine and norbuprenorphine were free (buprenorphine, 33% free and 5% conjugated; norbuprenorphine, 21% free and 2% conjugated). Buprenorphine has a mean elimination half-life from plasma ranging from 24 to 42 hours and naloxone has a mean elimination half-life from plasma ranging from 2 to 12 hours.

Drug-drug Interactions

CYP3A4 Inhibitors and Inducers: Subjects receiving ZUBSOLV sublingual tablet should be monitored if inhibitors of CYP3A4 such as azole antifungal agents (e.g., ketoconazole), macrolide antibiotics (e.g., erythromycin) or HIV protease inhibitors and may require dose-reduction of one or both agents. The interaction of buprenorphine with all CYP3A4 inducers has not been studied, therefore it is recommended that patients receiving ZUBSOLV sublingual tablet be monitored for signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal if inducers of CYP3A4 (e.g., phenobarbital, carbamazepine, phenytoin, rifampicin) are co-administered [See DRUG INTERACTIONS].

Buprenorphine has been found to be a CYP2D6 and CYP3A4 inhibitor and its major metabolite, norbuprenorphine, has been found to be a moderate CYP2D6 inhibitor in in-vitro studies employing human liver microsomes. However, the relatively low plasma concentrations of buprenorphine and norbuprenorphine resulting from therapeutic doses are not expected to raise significant drug-drug interaction concerns.

Last reviewed on RxList: 7/18/2013
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.


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