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Buprenorphine Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Learn more about how Buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction works in this informative article.

Overview

Millions of Americans suffer from the symptoms of opioid addiction. Especially among at-risk communities, opioid addiction can lead to long-term suffering and harm to both individuals and communities. Buprenorphine may help individuals looking to overcome or treat their opioid addictions. It’s important to know how buprenorphine treatment for opioid addiction works and how to get access to this treatment safely.

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What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication intended to treat opioid use disorder or OUD. Buprenorphine is an MAT or medication-assisted treatment. Put in other words, buprenorphine is not meant to be used by itself to treat OUD. Instead, it is meant to be used alongside other elements of a comprehensive treatment plan, like behavioral therapies. 1

Importantly, buprenorphine is the first FDA-approved medication for OUD treatment that can be prescribed in physician offices. Therefore, many struggling with opioid addiction can access this potential treatment option.

Buprenorphine vs. Suboxone

Buprenorphine is very similar to another medication called Suboxone. However, these are not the same. Buprenorphine is one of the important ingredients in Suboxone, though the latter also contains another drug called naloxone.

Buprenorphine Treatment for Opioid Addiction

As an opioid partial agonist, buprenorphine can be very useful for treating opioid addiction. Buprenorphine produces effects like respiratory depression and euphoria when administered in low to moderate doses. It produces much lower or weaker effects than full opioid agonists like heroin and methadone. 2

If taken correctly and prescribed by a doctor, buprenorphine can be safe and effective. It is used in treating opioid addiction because its pharmacological properties can:

  • Help to increase safety if a person is at risk of opioid overdose
  • Reduce the risk of opioid treatment misuse or abuse
  • Help reduce the side effects of dependency on opioids, like cravings or withdrawal symptoms

FDA-Approved Buprenorphine Products

At the time of this writing, the FDA has approved several medications and treatment products for OUD that contain buprenorphine. These include: 3

  • Generic buprenorphine or naloxone sublingual tablets
  • Buprenorphine sublingual tablets (Subutex)
  • Buprenorphine extended-release injections (Sublocade)
  • Buprenorphine implants (Probuphine)
  • Buprenorphine or naloxone buccal film (Bunavail)
  • Buprenorphine or naloxone sublingual films (Suboxone)
  • Buprenorphine or naloxone sublingual tablets (Zubsolv)

Myths About Using Suboxone to Treat Opioid Addiction

While Suboxone and other buprenorphine-derived treatments can be useful, certain harmful myths surround the use of these medications. These myths will be detailed below.

Buprenorphine Can Induce Withdrawal

Some believe that you can go into withdrawal if you only take buprenorphine. This is false. Buprenorphine is not potent enough to cause withdrawal symptoms, unlike other medications used to treat opioid addiction. If taken as prescribed, withdrawal symptoms from buprenorphine are simply not possible.

Buprenorphine Simulates a “High”

Others believe that buprenorphine induces "high" effects. This is also false. Buprenorphine cannot get one high or induce the same effects as other opioid-related treatments or drugs.

Buprenorphine should be taken for as long as prescribed by a licensed medical professional or therapist. It should not only be taken for a short period. Taking buprenorphine does not increase one’s chances of relapse or experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Buprenorphine is a “Quick Fix”

Furthermore, buprenorphine is not a “quick fix” to OUD or its long-term symptoms. In contrast, buprenorphine is meant to be one piece of a comprehensive treatment plan. It should be utilized with behavioral therapy, counseling, and other aspects of complete patient treatment. 4

If you or a loved one decides to take buprenorphine, you are not replacing one addiction with another. Remember, buprenorphine is FDA-approved. That means it is approved for use in treatment clinics and centers across America. 

Side Effects of Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine can be an essential and effective part of a holistic opioid addiction treatment plan. However, patients must be prepared to encounter potential side effects when they take this medication/ingredient.

Common Side Effects

Some of the most common side effects of buprenorphine use include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and/or fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Dry mouth or tooth decay
  • Inability to sleep
  • Fever
  • Palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Muscle aches and/or cramps
  • Disturbance and attention or difficulty concentrating
  • Dilated pupils or blurred vision

Severe Side Effects

In rare circumstances, individuals may experience severe side effects from buprenorphine use. If you or a loved one experiences any side effects, contact your medical professional immediately. The serious potential side effects of buprenorphine use include:

  • Itching, pain, or swelling
  • Nerve damage if buprenorphine is administered via implant
  • Pain at the injection site if buprenorphine is administered via injection
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Respiratory distress
  • Psychological dependence or withdrawal symptoms
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome in newborns

Because of the last potential side effect, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers should not take buprenorphine unless advised by their doctor/medical professional. The risk of neonatal side effects may be enough to recommend a different opioid addiction treatment option.

Buprenorphine Treatment

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the frequently asked questions about buprenorphine usage.

Is Buprenorphine Used For Pain?

Buprenorphine can be used to treat severe pain, such as pain from cancer or pain experienced after a serious injury or operation. It is sometimes used because it is less likely to induce opioid dependency in certain individuals. 

Is Buprenorphine the Same as Tramadol?

No. Tramadol is another medication that prevents relapse in opioid-dependent patients and is effective in detoxifying patients. Your medical professional may recommend one or the other medication.

When Is It Safe to Take Buprenorphine?

Generally, buprenorphine should only be taken when prescribed by medical professionals or when an opioid-addicted individual is in moderate to severe withdrawal. Buprenorphine can help minimize the worst symptoms and lower the likelihood of a relapse.

What Is the Best Way to Take Buprenorphine?

Most doctors prescribe buprenorphine as tablets. These are meant to be taken by mouth and dissolved under the tongue. The medicine could take between 15 and 30 minutes to dissolve fully and a few more minutes to be absorbed by the body. Buprenorphine taken in this way will not work if the patient swallows it.

No matter how buprenorphine is taken, patients should always follow the advice of their medical practitioner/caregiver.

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