Buprenorphine is an opioid medication used to treat pain and opioid addiction.
When used to treat pain, buprenorphine may be given in the form of a patch that is applied to the skin. It provides pain relief for seven days.
When used to treat opioid addiction, buprenorphine is combined with naloxone, usually as a pill that is absorbed under the tongue (sublingual). Because naloxone can cause withdrawal if it is injected, adding it to buprenorphine prevents people from misusing the drug.
Buprenorphine is a long-acting opioid drug used to replace the shorter-acting opioids that someone may be addicted to, such as heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl or hydromorphone. Long-acting means that the drug acts more slowly in the body, for a longer period of time. The effects of buprenorphine last for 24 to 36 hours. In contrast, a person who uses short-acting opioids to avoid withdrawal must use three to four times a day.
When taken at the correct dose, buprenorphine prevents withdrawal symptoms and reduces drug cravings without causing the person to feel high (euphoric) or sleepy. This lowers the harms associated with opioid misuse and gives people who are addicted to opioids a chance to stabilize their lives. This treatment is known as opioid agonist therapy. Buprenorphine therapy for opioid addiction works similar to methadone, another opioid agonist therapy.
When combined with medical and supportive care, buprenorphine and methadone are equally effective treatments for opioid addiction, although one may work better than the other for some people.
Side effects can include:
Trade names include:
Differences between buprenorphine and methadone include the following:
Mixing methadone or buprenorphine with other drugs that depress the central nervous system can be very dangerous. Avoid other opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines (e.g., Ativan, Xanax, Restoril, Valium, clonazepam). Taking these is especially risky when you first start opioid agonist therapy. Using other drugs while taking opioid agonist treatment can also cause your dose of buprenorphine to wear off more quickly, meaning you could experience withdrawal.
All opioids have a risk of overdose, though the risk is higher with methadone than with buprenorphine. The risk is especially high when you start treatment, and when you stop taking opioids (buprenorphine or other opioids) for a while and then start again. Mixing opioids with other drugs also increases the risk of overdose. If you or someone you know uses opioids, it is a good idea to have a free naloxone kit. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and allow time for medical help to arrive.
Making the Choice, Making it Work © 2016 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Opioid Agonist Therapy: Information for Clients © 2016 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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