Buprenorphine is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help people reduce or quit their use of heroin or other opiates, such as pain relievers like morphine. Medications such as buprenorphine, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of opioid dependency. When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine is safe and effective. When patients and physicians were surveyed by SAMHSA about the effectiveness of buprenorphine, they reported an average of an 80% reduction in illicit opioid use, along with significant increases in employment, and other indices of recovery.
Unlike methadone treatment, which must be performed in a highly structured clinic, buprenorphine is the first medication to treat opioid dependency that is permitted to be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices, significantly increasing treatment access. Under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000), qualified U.S. physicians can offer buprenorphine for opioid dependency in various settings, including in an office, community hospital, health department, or correctional facility. Learn more about SAMHSA’s buprenorphine waiver management.
As with all medications used in MAT, buprenorphine is prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and participation in social support programs.
Buprenorphine offers several benefits to those with opioid dependency and to others for whom treatment in a methadone clinic is not preferred or is less convenient. The FDA has approved the following buprenorphine products:
Refer to the product websites for a complete listing of drug interactions, warnings, and precautions.
Buprenorphine has unique pharmacological properties that help:
Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. This means that, like opioids, it produces effects such as euphoria or respiratory depression. With buprenorphine, however, these effects are weaker than those of full drugs such as heroin and methadone.
Buprenorphine’s opioid effects increase with each dose until at moderate doses they level off, even with further dose increases. This “ceiling effect” lowers the risk of misuse, dependency, and side effects. Also, because of buprenorphine’s long-acting agent, many patients may not have to take it every day.
People should use the following precautions when taking buprenorphine:
The ideal candidates for opioid dependency treatment with buprenorphine:
Buprenorphine as an opioid use disorder treatment is carefully regulated. Qualified physicians are required to acquire and maintain certifications to legally dispense or prescribe opioid dependency medications. SAMHSA’s Division of Pharmacologic Therapies (DPT) makes available required buprenorphine training for physicians, webinars, workshops, and summits, and publications and research.