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What Is Buprenorphine Used For?

Using Buprenorphine for Opioid Dependence

Subutex and Suboxone are approved for the treatment of opioid dependence. They are used to replace other opioid medications, including both legal medications (like morphine) or illegal drugs (like heroin). They can be used for long-term maintenance of opioid dependence.
Because it is an opioid, buprenorphine can be abused. In particular, this medication is susceptible to abuse via injection. To help prevent this problem, Suboxone combines buprenorphine with naloxone. The naloxone has little (or no) effect when taken as directed under the tongue but cancels out the action of buprenorphine if injected, and can even cause withdrawal.
Usually, people are started on Subutex (the formulation without naloxone), particularly when they are withdrawing from their previous opioid use but should be switched to Suboxone for outpatient treatment. Only people who do not tolerate Suboxone should stay on Subutex for long-term treatment.
Not all healthcare providers can prescribe buprenorphine for opioid dependence. In order for your healthcare provider to be able to prescribe this medication, he or she must take a special class and must have a special registration.
Unlike most other medications used to treat opioid dependence, buprenorphine can be dispensed by pharmacies in an outpatient setting (in "regular" pharmacies, not just by special dependence clinics).

How Does Buprenorphine Work?

Buprenorphine binds to a specific type of opioid receptor, called the opioid mu receptor. Opioid mu receptors are located throughout the body. Interestingly, buprenorphine is a partial (not full) agonist of mu receptors. This means that it binds to the receptors but only partially activates them. While the main effects occur in the central nervous system, buprenorphine can produce effects anywhere opioid mu receptors are found.
Some of these effects, such as pain relief, are desirable. Others are undesirable and cause the side effects associated with buprenorphine use. Effects of opioids, including buprenorphine, may include but are not limited to:
  • Pain relief
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in mood, including feelings of unease (dysphoria) or unusually pleasant feelings (euphoria)
  • Cough suppression
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Slowing of the digestive tract
  • Physical dependence.
Alternative Therapies for Pain Management

Buprenorphine Drug Information

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