Buprenorphine is an opioid medication used in the treatment of opioid addiction. It has the huge advantage of being able to be taken home, making it useful for outpatient drug rehab.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a medication used to treat opioid addiction. It considered a “partial opioid agonist,” meaning it doesn’t have all of the features of a full-blown agonist opioid.

It will prevent withdrawal symptoms, but won’t have as much physical dependence, euphoria or potential for abuse. It has some withdrawal symptoms of its own, but does not have a huge withdrawal profile.

What Buprenorphine Users Should Know

When given in proper doses, it will block the uncomfortable symptoms of opioid withdrawal in patients addicted to opioid drugs. It will decrease opioid cravings and will reduce the effects of other opioids on the body.

It will also lessen the risk of illicit opioid use and improve the effectiveness of outpatient addiction rehab. Because it can produce some euphoria and respiratory depression, it should be used in proper doses.

At low doses, it will have a sufficient agonist effect on the body. Buprenorphine binds tightly to opioid sites so that it can displace other opioid drugs and block them from attaching. This means that opioid-addicted patients can stop their opioid and can only take the partial agonist drug.

The effect eventually reaches a plateau so that more of the drug will not increase opioid symptoms.  This “ceiling effect” leads to a decreased risk of abuse and addiction when compared to other opioid drugs.

Buprenorphine cannot be used while an opioid is still in the bloodstream because it can lead to withdrawal symptoms. If withdrawal does occur, it is usually less severe. This is because it has combined agonist, partial agonist and antagonist activity on opioid receptors.

This drug was approved for use in opioid withdrawal in 2002. Nearly 10 million prescriptions for the drug are written for the medication per year in the United States.

Risks of Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is an opioid drug. That means it carries the risk of sleepiness, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions and respiratory depression.  It can increase the seizure risk in susceptible patients.

It should be noted that buprenorphine as a single agent has the potential for abuse and is occasionally injected or snorted illegally. It is a Schedule III-controlled substance which means it has some potential for abuse.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Kent Hoffman, D.O. has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/09/2020

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