Buprenorphine is a strong, semi-synthetic opioid painkiller prescribed for a wide variety of issues including chronic pain, acute pain, nausea, and to treat opioid addictions. It is most commonly prescribed under the names Subutex, Suboxone, Temgesic, Buprenex, and Butrans. The medication works on the nervous system and brain to reduce the feelings of pain in the body. The primary use for Buprenorphine in medicine is to treat individuals who are highly addicted to opioids such as heroin and oxycodone. Let’s take a closer look at how this medication works for addiction, pain, etc.

  • Buprenorphine for Opioid Addiction: Buprenorphine is a popular drug used by physicians to treat opioid addictions. Addictions are classified as diseases as they negatively alter brain biology from a healthy state. They are also considered chronic because the changes can be long-lasting. This medicine is used for detoxification from opioids, and for short and long-term replacement therapy. Because this drug is a partial agonist, it does not produce severe respiratory distress and depression, like many opioids do. When doctors prescribe Buprenorphine to an opioid addicted individual, it allows them to gradually withdraw from the abused drug without feeling euphoric or high effects, or slow or labored breathing commonly seen in heroin or oxycodone use. Buprenorphine works in detoxification treatments by reducing opioid cravings while binding to the same receptors as heroin without producing a high. Withdrawal symptoms from opioids can be dangerous and life-threatening, so the individual must be weaned down slowly from the drug. While physicians can prescribe Buprenorphine on an outpatient basis, the detoxification and initial start of a Buprenorphine regimen is almost always completed at a rehab facility under medical supervision.
  • Buprenorphine for chronic pain or nausea: Buprenorphine is available as Butrans patches for individuals experiencing moderate to severe chronic pain, or those experiencing nausea and who cannot tolerate more widely used anti-nausea medications. Patches can last up to seven days for around-the-clock pain relief, but are not helpful for those experiencing acute pain or post-operative pain. Patches are also not indicated for use in someone needing treatment from opioid addiction.
  • Buprenorphine for acute pain: For individuals experiencing acute pain or pain immediately after an operation, Buprenorphine is given in tablet or injection form only, as patches will not help this type of pain.

Buprenorphine Adverse Effects

Though Buprenorphine has many useful indications, it can cause side effects in some individuals. These can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sweating
  • Flushing
  • Feeling confused or nervous
  • Shallow breathing
  • Itching, redness or rashes

Issues such as shallow breathing, flushing, itching or rashes are signs of a more serious reaction to this medicine and if these occur, the individual should be seen immediately by a physician. One benefit to Buprenorphine over other opioids is it does not cause severe respiratory distress and depression, which is one of the main mechanisms behind most fatal opioid overdoses.

Buprenorphine History and Opioid Addiction Therapy Usage

Buprenorphine was approved by the FDA in October, 2002, for use in the treatment of opiate addiction. When used in treatment for addiction, there are three phases a patient must go through for treatment to be successful. Here is an in-depth look at each phase:

  • Induction: The induction phase is introduced to an opioid addicted individual after he or she has stopped using opioids for 12 to 24 hours and is undergoing the beginning stages of withdrawal. This phase of therapy is almost always carried out in a physician’s office or a rehabilitation treatment center.
  • Stabilization: This phase begins when the patient has stopped used of his or her drug of abuse, is no longer experiencing cravings for the drug, and is experiencing little to no side effects from withdrawal. At this point, the dosage of Buprenorphine is often adjusted, in some cases to an alternative day dosing schedule.
  • Maintenance: The maintenance phase begins when the individual has been doing well on a steady dosage of Buprenorphine. The length of time someone will stay in the maintenance phase is different for each patient, and could be an indefinite period depending on how much he or she abused opioids and at what amounts. Some patients will be slowly weaned down from Buprenorphine, at their physician’s discretion.

Suboxone Abuse

Although Buprenorphine was originally developed as a treatment for addiction to heroin, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and morphine, it is abused by some individuals, specifically Suboxone, one form of the drug. Signs that someone may be abusing Suboxone include nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, increased blood pressure, apathetic mood, poor memory, insomnia and depression. Physicians have reported that individuals abusing Suboxone in smaller doses display an impact on his or her ability to show emotions. Individuals abusing Suboxone in larger doses have been labeled as completely numb regarding emotional displays.

One common abuse method of Suboxone is where individuals will snort or inject the drug, which can make someone extremely high if he or she has not been recently using other opioids. Serious side effects can also occur through these routes of administration. In most cases of Suboxone abuse, the individual has abused other opiates for long periods of time, and some addicts use the drug as a way to prevent withdrawal symptoms from heroin, hydrocodone, etc. If you or a loved one have a Buprenorphine abuse issue, please consult your physician or nearest rehabilitation treatment center for help.