Opioid addiction is an epidemic in the United States. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), an estimated 2 million adults in America have a substance abuse disorder related to opioids — including prescription drugs, fentanyl and heroin.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an even greater acceleration of the problem amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 90,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the 12-month period ending in September 2020. Opioid-related deaths also rose by 55% during this period.
Buprenorphine is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). If you or someone you know has been prescribed buprenorphine, it’s crucial to understand how it works and when to take it to ensure safe use.
What Is Buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine and its compounds like Suboxone® are used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help people quit their use of illicit opioids. Buprenorphine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical treatment of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) in 2002 and has since proven to be effective in treating opioid addiction. This expands the medications used for treatment which previously was limited to methadone.
When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine can:
- Decrease opioid cravings.
- Suppress opioid withdrawal symptoms.
- Block the effects of other opioids.
How Does Buprenorphine Work?
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, meaning it activates opioid receptors in the brain until that activation reaches a plateau known as the “ceiling effect.” Full opioid agonists like methadone provide greater receptor activation without hitting a plateau. However, buprenorphine blocks opiates for up to three days, which is longer than methadone.
Buprenorphine produces a strong enough opioid effect to prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms. Thanks to buprenorphine’s ceiling effect, chronic opioid users are less likely to abuse the medication. The euphoric effects of the drug will always level off no matter how much buprenorphine a person takes. As a result, users are less physically dependent on buprenorphine and experience less severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it.
When Is It Safe to Start Taking Buprenorphine?
To minimize the risk and potential damage of opioid withdrawal, patients should start taking buprenorphine when opioid withdrawal symptoms are still mild. Typically, buprenorphine should be given 12-24 hours after short-acting opioid use and 24-48 hours after long-acting opioid use. Buprenorphine should always be prescribed by medical professionals who understand the complexities of the drug.
Buprenorphine is a long-term treatment option managed in three phases to ensure patient safety:
- Induction: This period includes the initial transition from opioid use to buprenorphine treatment and usually lasts several days to a week.
- Stabilization: This phase includes medication adjustments to determine the minimum amount required to prevent withdrawal symptoms, minimize side effects and reduce cravings.
- Maintenance: This stage lasts indefinitely and involves physician monitoring and dosage adjustments based on the patient’s specific needs.
Buprenorphine Treatment at MedMark Treatment Centers
At MedMark, we offer buprenorphine treatment at most treatment center programs. All of our treatment plans are individualized and comprehensive to deliver the best care. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options.