What Is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist drug that has been shown to be effective in treating pain, providing comfort during medically supervised withdrawal, and as a maintenance treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD).

When used during opioid detox and withdrawal, buprenorphine blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, with a lesser withdrawal response compared to other opioid agonists, such as methadone. This mechanism ultimately reduces the craving and urge to use opioids.

Buprenorphine has a low potential for physical dependence but a high potential for psychological dependence; it is, therefore, categorized as a Schedule III drug. Due to its tendency toward psychological dependence, many companies combine the drug naloxone with it to decrease the likelihood of the drug’s misuse.

What Does Buprenorphine Look Like?

Buprenorphine comes in different forms and has a variety of routes of administration, including sublingual film, transdermal patch, oral pill, and injection forms.

Sublingual buprenorphine is the most commonly used form in the treatment of opioid dependence.

Otherwise known by its brand name, Suboxone, the sublingual film usually looks like a thin orange square that disintegrates when placed under the tongue. This form ensures rapid absorption by the body, but it can also have a slower onset of action, making the drug’s effects last longer.

Pharmaceutical Names For Buprenorphine

Although buprenorphine is the generic name for the drug, you may recognize it by its different brand names, which can come in different dosages and forms, including:

  • Belbuca
  • Brixadi
  • Bunavail
  • Buprenex

  • Butrans
  • Sublocade
  • Suboxone
  • Zubsolv

How Does It Work?

Buprenorphine works by blocking your brain’s opioid receptors, which decreases your typical opioid withdrawal symptoms, diminishes cravings, and enhances the overall quality of life during the treatment of your opioid addiction. It also helps to create time to develop treatment plans that you are more likely to stick to, thereby increasing the likelihood of effective opioid addiction treatment.

When used in long-term OUD treatment, buprenorphine is considered a “substitution treatment.” This refers to the idea that addiction is addressed by substituting a more powerful agonistic opioid (i.e., methadone, heroin, morphine) with a less powerful opioid, such as buprenorphine, which is then gradually tapered down.

Research is also ongoing on additional uses, specifically its potential effectiveness in assisting in the treatment of cocaine addiction.

Is Buprenorphine Effective?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that when taken as directed, buprenorphine can be highly effective and may enable a large number of patients to reach a substantial reduction, or full abstinence, of opioid use. It has also been shown to have a positive outcome for both withdrawal discomfort, as well as the completion of the withdrawal.

Before using buprenorphine, patients have to be, at a minimum, at the mild withdrawal stage from opioids; at this stage, it can effectively relieve withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, the use of buprenorphine in treating opioid dependence is relatively easy to start from both a provider’s and a patient’s perspective.

Effects Of Buprenorphine Use

Buprenorphine may have some side effects and adverse effects while being used and while tapering off of it.

Side Effects

Although uncommon, the following side effects may present:

  • Rash or hives
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle aches or cramps
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Palpitations

Adverse Effects

Some adverse effects that may be experienced include:

If you experience any of these symptoms while taking buprenorphine, be sure to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Dose-Related Effects

For any drug, different dosages may result in different effects or side effects. With buprenorphine, taking higher doses may tend to result in more severe withdrawal symptoms. In addition, buprenorphine has something called “the ceiling effect” associated with it, in which increasing the dosage over 24 mg will not increase the likelihood of certain adverse effects, such as on respiratory or cardiovascular functions.

However, generally, buprenorphine was shown to be safe, improve treatment consistency, and decrease the use of illicit opioids.

Can You Overdose On Buprenorphine?

While uncommon, you may face an elevated risk of overdose if you revert to using illicit opioids during the treatment or tapering process of buprenorphine. It is, therefore, suggested to providers to prescribe naloxone in addition to monitoring for signs and symptoms of withdrawal throughout the tapering process of buprenorphine. If withdrawal symptoms are noted, the provider should consider slowing the taper schedule.

Overdose symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypotension
  • Respiratory depression
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms while taking buprenorphine, seek emergency care immediately.

Buprenorphine Withdrawal

It is difficult to differentiate typical withdrawal symptoms of other opioids from that of buprenorphine. Therefore, buprenorphine withdrawal can look similar and may happen at any point of treatment. Withdrawal symptoms to look out for may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Sweating

Reach Out Today

Buprenorphine is one of a few different treatment medications for OUD, often used in conjunction with a more comprehensive treatment program. If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction to opioids, consider reaching out to a treatment provider to learn more about your treatment options.