Other medications

What is Buprenorphine?

There are several types of MAT for opioid use disorder. One treatment is buprenorphine. Here’s everything you need to know.

By:
Ophelia team
Buprenorphine chemical structure
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Fact checked by
Arthur Robin Williams, MD

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is considered the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder because it reduces symptoms of withdrawal, decreases cravings, and lowers the chance of relapse and overdose. It’s significantly more effective than rehab alone, making it easier for individuals to overcome their opioid usage. There are several types of MAT for opioid use disorder, including buprenorphine. Here’s what you need to know about this medication, including common side effects and how long it stays in your system.  

What is buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic drug used in MAT to help people quit the use of opiates. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical use in 2002. While it can be used in conjunction with behavioral therapies and counseling, it can also offer a comprehensive, whole-person treatment for opioid dependency on its own.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), buprenorphine was the first medication to treat opioid use disorders in physician’s offices. It is the active ingredient in Suboxone®, a form of MAT that also contains naloxone. Buprenorphine is available in a range of forms, including tablets, films, and injections.

The drug is often compared to methadone, a fully synthetic medication that is also used to manage withdrawal symptoms. The key difference between the two is in accessibility. Methadone is only available at a clinic, while buprenorphine is available as a prescription that you can pick up and take home.

Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist that works to reduce the effects of physical dependence on opioids, such as withdrawal. Although it may produce effects like euphoria, these effects are weaker than those of full opioid agonists, such as methadone.

How to identify buprenorphine?

Depending on if you are prescribed Suboxone, Zubsolv®, or Subutex® your buprenorphine medication can vary greatly in appearance. Here is a guide for identifying your medication:

Buprenorphine sublingual tablet and film identifying guide
How to identify different buprenorphine prescriptions.

What are the side effects of buprenorphine?

When used as prescribed, buprenorphine is safe and effective. As with any medication, however, it does have the potential for side effects. If you’re concerned about buprenorphine side effects, be sure to discuss them with your provider to determine whether this is the best medication for you. Common side effects of buprenorphine include:

  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleep challenges
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision or dilated pupils
  • Tremors
  • Palpitations

Rarely, buprenorphine can also cause serious side effects, including respiratory distress. If these or other serious side effects occur,seek immediate medical help. Other rare but serious side effects include overdose, adrenal insufficiency, withdrawal, and dependence.

Taking buprenorphine exactly as directed is important to reducing the risk of serious side effects. Because of the drug’s opioid effects, it has the potential to be misused. For this reason, naloxone is added to buprenorphine to limit the chance of diversion and misuse.

You’ll also want to take the following precautions while using buprenorphine:

  • Do not take other medications without discussing them with your doctor.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
  • Do not use any drugs or drink alcohol while taking buprenorphine.
  • Don’t share your buprenorphine with anyone else.
  • Always store buprenorphine out of reach of any children or pets.

If you experience any side effects that become too uncomfortable, consider speaking with your provider to explore alternatives.

How long does buprenorphine stay in your system?

Various factors influence the duration for which buprenorphine stays in your system. One important factor is the drug’s half-life. A half-life is the amount of time that passes before half the substance leaves the body completely. Buprenorphine has a half-life of 24-42 hours. It takes roughly five half-lives for substances to be completely cleared from the body. Thus, it may take seven to nine days for buprenorphine to leave the system. Depending on the specific test used to detect its presence, buprenorphine may continue to be detected for much longer.

Moreover, the life span of buprenorphine in the body can vary from person to person. Specific influencing factors may include:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Existing medical conditions
  • Severity of addition
  • How buprenorphine is taken

Getting started with MAT

If you’re struggling with opioid dependence, turn to Ophelia for help. We offer MAT for opioid use disorder using scientifically proven treatment on your time and in your own space.

Our opioid dependence treatment program is designed to fit your needs. We’ll review your personal history and find the right path for your goals. Our practitioners focus on Suboxone, a highly effective combination medication that contains buprenorphine.

Find out more about what our program entails and how it can fit into your life.

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