How to Treat Addiction & Withdrawal with Buprenorphine

Unlike other treatments for opioid addiction, buprenorphine is a medication that can be taken home for self-administration. It is a partial opioid agonist, which means that while it can produce similar effects to opioid drugs such as heroin or morphine, it does not induce the intense highs so is ideal as a replacement drug in the treatment of opioid withdrawal.

When used as a treatment for addiction and abuse, buprenorphine can suppress the symptoms of withdrawal, reduce cravings, and encourage abstinence. It is seen as a suitable drug for opioid withdrawal due to its milder effects and the fact that there is a much lower potential for abuse and addiction.

What Addictions Is Buprenorphine Used to Treat?

  • Heroin addiction
  • Opioid addiction

Medications for Abuse and Addiction

Overcoming addiction can be an unpleasant process, particularly during detox when withdrawal symptoms can occur. However, certain medications can be prescribed to help relieve the symptoms or prevent them from occurring.

Medication is generally most effective when used in conjunction with counselling and therapy. Certain medications will be prescribed to help aid ongoing abstinence by reducing drug or alcohol cravings.

In addition to medications used to help with withdrawal, there are certain medications that may be useful for the treatment of co-occurring mental health disorders, such as antidepressants, to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How to Choose the Right Medication

Choosing the right medication for addiction treatment is a matter for your doctor. It will be necessary for him or her to look closely at a number of factors before any medication is administered. In certain cases, medication may be deemed to be inappropriate, particularly if there is a risk that you could develop an addiction to it.

The type of medication that is prescribed during addiction detox and rehabilitation will depend on the type of substance you have been abusing, your overall health, and your age.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine was originally created as a pain reliever before it was used as a treatment for opioid addiction. It is an opiate agonist containing chemicals that act on opioid receptors in the brain. This helps to improve feelings of wellbeing as well as reduce pain. By replicating the effects of other opioid drugs but at much lower levels, buprenorphine is ideal as a replacement drug for those withdrawing from stronger opioids such as heroin, morphine, or fentanyl.

Brand Names for Buprenorphine

Probuphine

Subutex

Suboxone

Cizdol

Temgesic

Buprenex

Norspan

Butrans

History of Buprenorphine

Researchers at Reckitt & Colman started synthesising an opioid drug back in the late 1950s in an effort to produce similar effects to other opioids but without the unpleasant side effects. The compound RX6029 was found to show success in reducing dependence in lab animals, subsequently being given the name buprenorphine.

Human trials began in 1971 and by 1978, the drug was released as a treatment for severe pain. In 2002, buprenorphine was approved for use in the treatment of opioid addiction by the US FDA.

Is Buprenorphine Addictive?

Although producing effects similar to other opioid drugs but at a lower level, as described above, buprenorphine can still become addictive, particularly when abused. Therefore, those who do use buprenorphine for purposes other than intended are at risk of developing an increased tolerance and everything that this entails.

Buprenorphine is often administered with another drug, naloxone, in the treatment of opioid addiction to help prevent the risk of abuse. Naloxone limits the effects of buprenorphine, which is why it is often referred to as a protection drug.

What is the Mechanism of Action

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist and although it binds to the same receptors in the brain that other opioids bind to, it does not produce the same level of euphoric feelings.

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How Long Does It Take for Buprenorphine to Work?

The effects of buprenorphine usually appear around an hour-and-a-half after it is taken. The drug is typically taken once a day as the effects usually last for around twenty-four hours. Doctors tend to advise users to take the drug at the same time every day as this allows for maximum effect from the drug.

What are the Side Effects of Buprenorphine?

  • Drowsiness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Back pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Fever or chills
  • Headaches

Facts/Statistics on Buprenorphine

Fact #1

Deaths from buprenorphine poisoning in England and Wales rose from 24 in 2014 and 2015 to 31 in 2016.

Fact #2

Buprenorphine is typically taken as a tablet that is placed under the tongue until it dissolves.

Fact #3

Buprenorphine can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly. It should therefore be taken in tapering doses over several days.

Studies Done on Buprenorphine

A retrospective data study on the risk of fatal poisoning by buprenorphine or methadone in England and Wales was published by the British Medical Journal. The study took into account data obtained from the NHS for the six-year period from 2007 to 2012.

It was found that during this time there were 2,366 deaths attributed to methadone compared to 52 attributed to buprenorphine. Researchers concluded ‘that buprenorphine is six times safer than methadone with regard to overdose risk among the general population’.

Another study published in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice compared buprenorphine with methadone in the treatment of opioid addiction in both the developed and developing worlds. The study found that while there were certain benefits for the use of buprenorphine over methadone, the latter was still the preferred option for most cases. It concluded that ‘buprenorphine’s weaker mu activity accounts for its poor performance compared to methadone in clinical trials’.

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