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How is Buprenorphine Used to Treat Opioid Addiction?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Opioid addiction is often treated with a combined pharmacological and behavioral approach. One of the most commonly used opioid addiction treatment medications is buprenorphine. Buprenorphine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2002 to be used in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat opioid addiction.[1]

Buprenorphine is a generic medication that is sold under various brand names and formulations. Understanding the different treatment options and how buprenorphine is used to treat opioid addiction can help patients decide whether or not the medication is right for them.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist-antagonist. It binds to opioid receptors in the brain and partially activates them so they release a small number of endorphins.[2] These effects mimic other opioids, however, they don’t produce the same “high.” This helps regulate brain chemistry after opioid abuse, reduce the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms, and alleviate drug cravings.

Buprenorphine is thought to be safer than methadone, another opioid treatment medication, and highly effective when combined with counseling and behavioral therapy.

Opioid Treatment Medications Containing Buprenorphine

The FDA has approved several different brand-name formulations of buprenorphine. The most popular include:

Suboxone (Buprenorphine/naloxone)

Suboxone is a brand-name prescription drug containing buprenorphine and naloxone. The drug comes in the form of a buccal film that is placed between the gums and cheek or under the tongue to dissolve in the mouth. It is taken on a daily basis during detox, treatment, and recovery.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the euphoric effects of opioids and is used to reverse opioid overdose. While buprenorphine treats symptoms of withdrawal and cravings, naloxone is added to the medication to reduce the risk of misuse.[3]

Other brand-name medications that contain buprenorphine and naloxone and work in the same way as Suboxone include Bunavail, Zubsolv, and Cassipa.

Belbuca (Buprenorphine oral)

Belbuca is a brand-name medication that contains only buprenorphine. It comes in the form of a sublingual film. Like Suboxone, Belbuca is taken on a daily basis. Patients may begin taking Belbuca during detox and continue using the medication during all stages of their recovery.

Subutex is another daily medication containing buprenorphine that used to be used to treat opioid addiction, however, it was discontinued in 2011.

Sublocade (Buprenorphine injection)

Sublocade is the first FDA-approved extended-release formulation of buprenorphine.[4] It comes in the form of a subcutaneous injection that is administered on the abdomen just below the skin. Unlike other forms of buprenorphine, Sublocade is administered on a monthly basis in a doctor’s office.

The Sublocade shot contains liquid buprenorphine that turns into a solid, gel-like substance after injection. This gel-like substance forms a “depot” that can be felt under the skin. The depot slowly releases a steady dose of buprenorphine in the body over the entire month. The injection is intended for people who have already been on a daily dose of buprenorphine for at least seven days.

Sublocade can be a great alternative for people who struggle with adhering to daily medications.

Recovering From Opioid Addiction With Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine is only one tool used to treat opioid addiction. It is not meant to replace therapy or peer support. Instead, the medication is combined with behavioral therapy, individualized counseling, and peer support to address all needs of each individual.

Opioid addiction treatment with buprenorphine typically consists of:

  • Medical detox – Patients detox under medical supervision. They may be able to begin taking buprenorphine 12-24 hours after their last dose of opioids. The medication can reduce withdrawal symptoms and even eliminate the need for inpatient detox services.
  • Inpatient and outpatient rehab – Patients may continue taking buprenorphine while participating in group and individual therapy sessions. Therapy helps patients understand the root causes of their addiction so they can begin to adjust their behaviors, cope in healthy ways, and actively prevent relapse.
  • Medication management – Patients have regular visits with their doctor to monitor their medication adherence, discuss side effects, and modify dosages, if necessary.
  • Aftercare support – Patients continue their recovery with medication management, peer support groups, and other recovery-related services such as sober living, recovery coaching, or alumni communities.

This combined approach is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Benefits of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) With Buprenorphine

There are many clinically proven benefits of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). These benefits include:[5]

  • Reduced risk of illicit opioid use and drug-related crime
  • Improved patient survival, treatment retention, and treatment outcomes
  • Improved ability for patients to gain and maintain employment
  • Reduced risk of opioid overdose and death
  • Improved birth outcomes in babies who are born to mothers who are struggling with opioid use disorder
  • Reduced risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C from drug use
  • Reduced risk for relapse

Find Help for Opioid Abuse and Addiction Today

Buprenorphine may not be right for everyone, but we’re here to make sure everyone receives the individually-tailored opioid addiction treatment they deserve. If you or a loved one are addicted to opioids and ready to begin your recovery journey, please give us a call today. One of our dedicated admissions coordinators can help you find the right treatment program for you.