What is Burprenorphine Treatment?
According to the NIDA, “Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist (i.e., it has agonist and antagonist properties).” This means that, although it has many of the same effects as other opioid agonist drugs and it attaches to the same receptors, its effects are much milder than other opioids like heroin or prescription opioids which are often abused.
Buprenorphine treatment is used on patients who are addicted to opioids as detox treatment and an addiction treatment. In both cases, it is usually even more successful in addition to the use of behavioral treatments. Buprenorphine treatment is relatively recent compared to methadone treatment, and it can be used as a type of long-term maintenance as well as a short-term detox and addiction treatment.
What Does Buprenorphine Treatment Entail?
Harvard Medical School states that “this drug is taken three times a week as a tablet held under the tongue.” The effects of the drug are opioid-like but are very weak, even at high doses. This makes it especially desirable compared to the other types of opioid addiction treatment medications.
Normally, patients are given the brand medication Suboxone, which “contains buprenorphine and naltrexone” (SAMHSA). This is because, otherwise, the drug would have a higher potential for mistreatment and abuse, but because of the presence of naltrexone, if the drug is crushed in order to be injected or snorted, it precipitates the opioid withdrawal syndrome. This factor keeps it from being abused.
Often, burprenorphine can be given in a doctor’s office if a certain doctor is licensed to distribute it. This can be very beneficial to many patients who do not want to go to a detox clinic.
Pros of Buprenorphine Treatment
Since it was approved for the treatment of opioid addiction in 2002, buprenorphine treatment is still relatively new (SAMHSA). However, this treatment is actually very beneficial and solves many of the issues that some individuals have with programs that use methadone and other pharmacological opioid addiction treatments. Some of the pros of buprenorphine treatment are:
- The ability to get your medication from a doctor instead of a clinic
- The faster withdrawal time many patients experience
- The use of naltrexone in Suboxone in order to protect the drug from abuse
- The safety of the drug––”Because of the partial agonist action, buprenorphine has a ceiling effect with regard to overdose potential.”
- The need to only take the drug three times a week
- The fact that some patients can be switched from methadone to buprenorphine, freeing up spots in methadone maintenance clinics for those who really need them
Compared with other methods, buprenorphine treatment has many advantages, especially if you are able to follow the rules of treatment and want to stop abusing opioids quickly.
Cons of Buprenorphine Treatment
Every type of treatment has its advantages and disadvantages. Some of the cons of buprenorphine treatment are:
- “In a person who is physically dependent on opiates, buprenorphine causes a withdrawal reaction” (Harvard Medical School).
- It is a much newer medication.
- It causes side effects similar to those caused by opioids.
These cons are not very many when it comes to treating those who are serious about stopping their opioid addictions and dependences. According to SAMHSA, “Buprenorphine is unlikely to be as effective as more optimal-dose methadone, and therefore, may not be the treatment of choice for patients with higher levels of physical dependence”. But for those who are not as severely addicted to opioids, buprenorphine is a fantastic option.
What Does Buprenorphine Feel Like?
Because you will experience some of the same effects caused by other opioids, nausea, vomiting, and constipation are common when taking buprenorphine. Those detoxing or maintained on buprenorphine might also experience withdrawal symptoms, as the syndrome can be precipitated by the drug. These symptoms are:
- Cravings for the drug
- Goose bumps
- Muscle and bone aches
- Runny nose
- Dilation of the pupils
Essentially, you will follow the three stages of buprenorphine treatment, which will be much more comfortable and less painful than going through opioid withdrawal without the drug. According to SAMHSA, these stages are:
- The induction phase
- You will have had to abstain “from using opioids for 12-24 hours” and will be experiencing the early stages of withdrawal. The patient will typically have a therapy session in the physician’s office and be prescribed a certain dosage of buprenorphine. The physician will also look at any other relevant matters, including the patient’s physical and emotional health, co-occurring disorders, and the severity of the patient’s addiction.
- The stabilization phase
- This phase starts when the patient “has discontinued or greatly reduced the use of his or her drug of abuse, no longer has cravings, and is experiencing few or no side effects.” The physician will likely adjust the dose to meet the patient’s new needs.
- The maintenance/medically supervised withdrawal phase
- Here, depending on the patient, there will either be the beginning of maintenance which has the patient continuing on “a steady dose of burprenorphine,” or withdrawal which has the amount of buprenorphine lessened slowly until the patient can stop taking it.
In the last step, everything depends on the patient’s needs, addiction severity, and success rate with treatments among other things. The physician and the patient will often decide together what will be best. According to the NIDA, “An individual’s treatment and services plan must be assessed continually and modified as necessary to ensure that it meets his or her changing needs.”
Is Buprenorphine Treatment Right for Me?
For many individuals, buprenorphine treatment is beneficial toward ending opioid addiction and abuse. Especially when coupled with behavioral therapy, it has been very successful. Patients can take buprenorphine as long as they need to and receive treatment in whatever manner best suits them.
Those who want to stop abusing opioids but have not found a place on a methadone maintenance treatment list can be benefited greatly by buprenorphine. And whether you have been addicted to opioids for a long time or a short time, if you are serious about changing your life and working on your recovery, buprenorphine treatment could be the right program for you.