If you suffer from addiction, you’ve probably heard of buprenorphine. This drug is sold under a number of different brand names, and its primary purpose is to help people overcome opioid addiction.
While many scientific sources view buprenorphine as a promising treatment for opioid addiction, this drug comes with inherent risks, and you should be knowledgeable about buprenorphine before you consider using it. In this article, we’ll tell you what buprenorphine is, what it’s used for, and the potential risks associated with this pharmaceutical.
What Is Buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine is administered as a sublingual pill, as an ingested pill, or as an injection. This drug is a class of opioid, but it differs from traditional opioids in one significant way: Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means that it reduces some of the effects that are commonly caused by opioids.
For instance, buprenorphine is designed to induce less euphoria than most opioid drugs, which reduces the risk of addiction. According to scientific research, euphoria is an important component of the addictive effects of opioids, and by reducing this factor, the makers of buprenorphine hope that chemical and psychological dependence on the drug will be reduced.
In addition, buprenorphine contains components that place a ceiling on the effects of this opioid. This means that taking more than the prescribed dose won’t give you a more intense high. In aftermarket research, this effect has not been well-demonstrated, but clinical trials seemed to show a plateau effect after patients ingested a certain amount of buprenorphine. Supposedly, the anti-addictive qualities of buprenorphine make it so there is less of a potential to abuse this drug, which also purportedly reduces the incidence of illicit opioid use.
Most prescription opioid users are only able to access small amounts of these drugs through their doctors’ prescriptions. When the patients become addicted to opioids, it has been clearly demonstrated that they will seek out illicit opioids to fuel their habit. While prescription opioids are dangerous enough, using illicit opioids often entails other risky behavior. Illicit drug use also turns average citizens into criminals, and since street heroin is now commonly cut with super-strong drugs like fentanyl, the risk for overdose is also higher when patients turn to street drugs.
Buprenorphine also supposedly has a mild withdrawal profile, so quitting this drug isn’t as hard as quitting some other forms of opioids. In fact, some treatment professionals may even use buprenorphine as part of the withdrawal process for people who are addicted to either prescription or street opioids. Proponents of buprenorphine also claim that this drug reduces the intensity of the effects of other types of opioids, and various addiction professionals suggest that this combination of effects makes it easier to keep opioid addicts in treatment.
What Are Some Examples of Buprenorphine Drugs?
Buprenorphine is branded by a number of different pharmaceutical companies. While all of these drug companies use the same basic chemical cocktail to make their treatments, these drugs are sold under different names. For instance, you may see buprenorphine sold as:
Depending on the company that manufactures the drug, buprenorphine may be offered in different doses, and the buprenorphine pills made by different companies may be in a variety of shapes and colors. If you are considering trying buprenorphine, consult with your doctor regarding which pill brand is right for you.
What Is Buprenorphine Used For?
The primary purpose of buprenorphine is for the treatment of addiction, but there are also other buprenorphine uses that you should know about. First, however, we’ll cover the ways in which this drug is used to treat addiction in a clinical setting.
Buprenorphine may be used as a solitary addiction treatment, or it may be incorporated into a suite of different treatments. One of the attractive qualities of this drug is that it is marketed as an at-home addiction treatment. While most types of addiction treatment involve inpatient or outpatient care, manufacturers of buprenorphine claim that this drug is enough on its own to engender positive effects in addicted individuals.
Other buprenorphine uses include administration in a clinical setting to help users in the recovery process. For instance, if an active opioid user enters an addiction facility, medical staff may administer buprenorphine to assist with the withdrawal process. In addition, addiction specialists may keep administering buprenorphine as the recovery process continues to mitigate cravings that would otherwise impel recovering users to stop treatment and seek drugs.
Interestingly, buprenorphine has enjoyed recent popularity as an anti-depression drug. While it might seem to a reasonable person that having a depressed individual use an opioid could simply make their problems worse, some doctors are prescribing buprenorphine for so-called “treatment-resistant depression.”
This type of depression is defined as a dysfunctional emotional state that persists no matter what treatment options are employed. Traditional depression drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) operate on different principles than opioids. If a depressed patient has used a number of treatment options to no avail, his or her doctor may suggest buprenorphine as a potential alternative.
Two buprenorphine drugs, Buprenex and Butrans, have been approved for pain management by the FDA. The rationale given for this decision is that since buprenorphine is less addictive than other opioids, it may be a more effective treatment for pain than traditional pain management drugs. However, it’s important to point out that most forms of buprenorphine have not been approved for pain management, and the drug has never been approved for the treatment of depression.
What Are Some Buprenorphine Effects?
Buprenorphine has similar effects as other types of opioids. Even though this drug has been specifically formulated to mitigate the euphoric effects of opioids, patients who use buprenorphine will still experience a euphoric rush, and they will notice an increase in their pain tolerance. Some patients may even note an overall improvement in mood that lasts between doses when they use buprenorphine, which is why certain scientists believe that this drug may be a promising depression treatment.
In people who are already addicted to opioids, buprenorphine effects can include a reduction in the intensity of opioid cravings and an increase in the period between cravings. However, since buprenorphine is so similar to other opioids, there is a significant controversy regarding the application of this drug in opioid-recovery settings.
Does Buprenorphine Have Any Side Effects?
Buprenorphine has a number of notable side effects that may constitute grounds for patients to discontinue the use of this drug. The most notable side effect of buprenorphine is addiction. Even though the drug is formulated to be non-addictive, there is no such thing as a non-addictive opioid.
While this isn’t a perfect analogy, it’s possible to view buprenorphine as being similar to “light” cigarettes; these types of cigarettes contain less nicotine than other types of cigarettes, but they still contain all of the chemicals that make people addicted to smoking. In the case of buprenorphine, special chemicals have been added to mitigate the addictive effect of this drug, but it’s questionable how effective these efforts truly are.
It’s also important to note that whenever you use opioids in excess, you face the risk of overdose. These drugs, including buprenorphine, can affect your ability to breathe until you’re unable to fill your lungs with air, and they can also slow down your heartbeat. Buprenorphine can lower your blood pressure, and it can cause chest pain. Nausea and vomiting can also occur in conjunction with ingesting this drug. You may also develop liver problems if you use buprenorphine over the long term.
If you experience any of the symptoms of serotonin syndrome, which include agitation, fever, rapid heart rate, twitching, sweating, and diarrhea, contact your doctor right away. Also, be advised that you may experience insomnia, headaches, constipation, or increased pain when you use buprenorphine.
Is Buprenorphine Ever Contraindicated?
If you suffer from any of the following conditions, administration of buprenorphine may be contraindicated:
- Significant respiratory depression
- Severe bronchial asthma
- A gastrointestinal obstruction such as paralytic ileus
- Buprenorphine allergy or allergy to any other components of this drug
Does Buprenorphine Interact With Any Other Medications?
Buprenorphine interacts negatively with a number of other drugs. In some cases, these interactions may be relatively mild, but they may be life-threatening under certain circumstances.
For instance, if you are using any other opioids, you should not use buprenorphine. Even in clinical settings, addiction specialists tread with caution if they need to administer this drug to someone who already has other opioids in their system. While adverse drug interactions between buprenorphine and other opioid drugs are not the primary concern, buprenorphine can “join forces” with other opioids to create a more concentrated and more dangerous effect.
Buprenorphine may also interact negatively with sedative drugs such as Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, Restoril, Tranxene, Versed, and Xanax. In combination with buprenorphine, these drugs can interfere with your ability to breathe and lower your blood pressure to dangerous levels. In serious cases, ingesting buprenorphine in conjunction with benzodiazepines or other similar sedative drugs may lead to extreme sedation, coma, or even death.
The same effects are noted when buprenorphine is ingested in tandem with alcohol. Due to the social, and often uncontrolled, nature of alcohol ingestion, however, using buprenorphine with alcohol may be even more dangerous than using the drug with benzodiazepines.
Any drugs that slow down your breathing or make you sleepy should be avoided while you’re using buprenorphine. You should also avoid using any drugs in conjunction with buprenorphine that affect your serotonin levels. While all opioid drugs can trigger serotonin syndrome, the particular chemical makeup of buprenorphine makes this drug an even more likely catalyst of this potentially fatal medical issue.
Serotonin syndrome occurs when the serotonin levels in your body spike to incredibly high levels. This syndrome can have relatively mild effects, such as shivering and diarrhea, but it can also cause severe muscle rigidity and seizures. In rare circumstances, serotonin syndrome can even cause death; this condition sometimes occurs when even a single dose of buprenorphine is administered.
Buprenorphine’s ability to increase serotonin levels is why some medical professionals believe that it is a valid treatment for depression, but this serotonin-boosting effect can easily go too far. Never use this drug with depression drugs like SSRIs or any type of stimulant.
Is It Possible to Overdose on Buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine overdose is a serious concern. While many medical authorities may claim that buprenorphine is much safer than other types of opioids when it comes to overdose, the opposite may actually be true.
When the drug is used outside of a physician’s care, the decreased effects of buprenorphine in comparison to other opioid drugs may cause users to ingest even more of this drug than they normally would. In addition, buprenorphine causes the same judgment-impairing effects as other opioid drugs. As a person descends into an opioid “coma,” they may become more and more incapable of making rational decisions until the point that they overdose.
Is Buprenorphine Right for You?
It’s important to carefully consider the benefits and negative aspects of using this drug before you make the decision to try buprenorphine. While this drug is marketed as a treatment for opioid addiction, keep in mind that buprenorphine is itself an opioid, which means that it is inherently dangerous. The only acceptable application of this drug is in life-or-death situations in which other opioid addiction treatments are ineffective. Even though there is a recent trend of prescribing buprenorphine for depression, the potential for opioid addiction in depressed individuals is high, and any patients considering going down this road should proceed with extreme caution.
Before you start using buprenorphine, you may wish to consult with a couple of doctors to get a better idea of how the medical community sees this drug. It’s possible that one of the physicians you speak with will be enthusiastic about buprenorphine while another will be more cautious. You should weigh these expert opinions before proceeding. If possible, you may want to try other treatment methods that are less dangerous before resorting to buprenorphine.