What is buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved synthetic opioid drug that is used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction as well as being used in the treatment of chronic pain. Buprenorphine, as with any MAT, should be prescribed under a careful treatment plan and supervision of a licensed medical professional. Unlike other MAT drugs such as methadone, the substance can be prescribed immediately in doctors’ offices, making it highly accessible compared to other prescription opiates.
Other MATs include methadone (and methadone combination medicine) and naltrexone (a naloxone combination medicine).
Buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD) and opioid addiction therapy
Buprenorphine treatment is prescribed for treating opioid use disorder (OUD) and is available in (but not limited to) the following medications:
- Various naloxone combination sublingual tablets
- Subutex – sublingual buprenorphine tablets
- Suboxone – naloxone combination sublingual film
- Zubsolv – naloxone combination sublingual tablets
- Bunavail – naloxone combination buccal film
- Probuphine – implants or patches
- Sublocade – extended-release injection
Why is a medication like buprenorphine prescribed?
While doctors sometimes prescribe this medication as a painkiller, it is most commonly used to treat opioid addiction or dependence in much the same fashion as methadone. The drug is a partial agonist opioid — meaning that it can trigger some, but not all of the opioid receptors in the brain.
When the drug is mixed with naloxone (a common medication used to reverse opioid effects and reactions such as overdose), it can prevent symptoms of withdrawal from stronger opiates, with much less risk for addiction or dependence than a medicine such as methadone. If the correct dosing of the medicine is paired with counseling, it can be effective in lowering the risk of dangerous side effects and overdose.
Although physicians prescribed buprenorphine is not as dangerous as “street” opiates, it still has all the common effects associated with opioid drugs; it produces feelings of euphoria and relaxation, though they are weaker than drugs such as fentanyl or methadone. Despite its weakness, there is strong evidence that the medicine can cause dependency, addiction, or exacerbate substance use disorders.
Taking buprenorphine as prescribed can:
- Lessen the physical symptoms of opioid abuse (such as withdrawal).
- Be less likely to cause a fatal overdose.
- Is less likely to be abused or misused.
Buprenorphine – sublingual & buccal opioid dependence & opiate addiction
Because it is a partial opioid agonist and does produce the same euphoric effects as other opiates, it has the potential for misuse. To mitigate this risk, it is often combined with naloxone to relieve some of its addictive properties.
In cases where the substance is misused, users will often crush buprenorphine to be snorted, or by dissolving it into an intravenous solution. Most patients who are prescribed the drug in the United States are supervised every day for the first two months after beginning a comprehensive treatment plan. Healthcare professionals such as doctors or pharmacists are also advised to keep an eye out for users who are trying to acquire the drug in suspicious doses.
Although it is uncommon, people can overdose from buprenorphine, especially if it is taken in combination with other drugs such as alcohol or additional opiates.
Symptoms and health effects of buprenorphine use
Buprenorphine use usually starts by taking moderate doses with the intention of pain reduction or to overcome addiction/withdrawal symptoms, with a legitimate prescription from a doctor or health care professional. However, because it is less intensely regulated than other, stronger opioids such as methadone and fentanyl, it can be relatively easy to acquire if a person develops a dependence or wants to abuse buprenorphine medications.
Symptoms of use often include:
- Shallow breathing
Other common side effects and physical symptoms of buprenorphine include:
- Constricted pupils
- Blurred vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach aches or abdominal pain
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Slow or weakened heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Depressed breathing or inability to breathe at all
- Blue lips and/or fingernails
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of appetite
The health risks become even higher if the drug is combined with alcohol or other drugs.
If you see someone exhibiting signs of opioid overdose, call 911 immediately and request emergency medical care.
Other potential effects or risks from buprenorphine abuse
Unfortunately, many people combine their buprenorphine use with other substances in an attempt to reach a greater high. Central nervous system (CNS) depressants such as alcohol and other opiates are common choices for those looking to add to their drug abuse, which can cause extreme health risks, including psychological symptoms like mental health disorders and physiological ones like respiratory failure.
Signs of buprenorphine addiction
People may develop an addiction to the substance after continued use and/or abuse of the drug. Users often feel a false sense of security when taking buprenorphine because it is not considered to be as powerful or addictive as other opiate family members such as methadone.
Regardless of its potency, every opioid has the potential for causing dependency and addiction because they all affect the brain in the same way. The brain’s reaction to opioids is called neuroadaptation.
Our body produces endorphins naturally as a response to various stimuli: pain, pleasure, stress, excitement, etc. Endorphins reduce pain and cause a feeling of relaxation. Opioids have the same effect—they affect endorphin receptors, causing the body to adapt over time and stop producing natural endorphins. As more opioids are introduced into the body and trigger opioid/opiate receptors, more endorphin receptors are created, which in turn demand more opioids. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle of demand and supply. A person’s dependence on opioids creates a powerful neuro-biological reaction, causing a constant demand for more opioids.
Some signs of opioid abuse, dependency, or addiction include:
- Slurred speech
- Short attention span
- Impaired judgment
- Dilated pupils
- Lack of coordination during activity
- Lessened reactions to outside stimuli
- Slow breathing
Long term signs of opioid abuse, dependency, or addiction include:
- Impaired memory
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle pains
- Respiratory depression or stopped breathing
- Withdrawal symptoms
As with other opiates, prolonged use can cause dependence on the substance. Though, unlike other medicine used to treat opioid dependence (such as methadone), it has less potential for abuse.
Buprenorphine overdose & substance abuse in the United States
Although buprenorphine isn’t as strong as some other opiates, there is evidence that overdose is still very possible when the abuse or dependence occurs. Opiates work by depressing the central nervous system, which is essential to the proper function of the brain, respiratory system, and heart. An overdose can cause breathing to slow significantly—fatally reducing the supply of oxygen to the brain and causing a rapid degeneration or death of brain cells. Symptoms of this process can cause fatal reactions such as coma, seizure, and brain damage.
In a 2016 report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths due to opioid use disorders and overdose have increased by 200% since 2000.
If someone is showing symptoms of overdose, contact the emergency assistance immediately by calling 911.
Prescription drugs & buprenorphine
Prescription opioids come with a high risk for dependence. Patients can find themselves reliant on the drugs for pain relief or to avoid withdrawal symptoms. When they can’t get these drugs legally, they often turn to illegal drugs to satisfy opioid cravings—despite the risk of overdose, adverse effects, or even death. This is often why doctors give patients struggling with opioid addiction access to buprenorphine. A formulation of buprenorphine and naloxone can be used as treatment for opioid addiction or another illicit drug dependence, though oftentimes it simply exacerbates the issue.
Contact ANR Clinic today to learn more about our revolutionary, evidence-based care methods that minimize unwanted effects of opiates and withdrawal symptoms.
ANR treatment was invented by Dr. Andre Waismann. Dr. Waismann identified the biological roots of dependency. Since then, Dr. Waismann and his medical professionals have successfully treated more than 24,000 patients worldwide that are struggling with opioid addiction. Throughout his career, he has lectured and educated health professionals in dozens of countries around the world.
Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR) is an addiction therapy that aims to bring the nervous system back to health and balance by decreasing receptor production in the brain while allowing the body to resume proper levels of endorphin production. ANR also allows the metabolizing and elimination of unnecessary exogenous opioids from the body. This negates the need for treatment with buprenorphine or therapy with partial opioid agonists as a whole, nullifying the risk of addiction to MAT medicine. The ANR treatment is conducted at various ANR treatment centers for addiction across the country.