We extend a technique of approximation of the long-term behavior of a supercritical stochastic epidemic model, using the WKB approximation and a Hamiltonian phase space, to the subcritical case. The limiting behavior of the model and approximation are qualitatively different in the subcritical case, requiring a novel analysis of the limiting behavior of the Hamiltonian system away from its deterministic subsystem. This yields a novel, general technique of approximation of the quasistationary distribution of stochastic epidemic and birth-death models and may lead to techniques for analysis of these models beyond the quasistationary distribution. For a classic SIS model, the approximation found for the quasistationary distribution is very similar to published approximations but not identical. For a birth-death process without depletion of susceptibles, the approximation is exact. Dynamics on the phase plane similar to those predicted by the Hamiltonian analysis are demonstrated in cross-sectional data from trachoma treatment trials in Ethiopia, in which declining prevalences are consistent with subcritical epidemic dynamics.