What is Buprenorphine and what is it used for
Buprenorphine is a medication primarily used to treat opioid use disorder, acute pain, and chronic pain. It can be used under the tongue, by injection, as a skin patch, or as an implant. For opioid use disorder, it decreases the desire to use the drug and withdrawal symptoms.
Buprenorphine belongs to a class of drugs called mixed opioid agonist-antagonists. It helps prevent withdrawal symptoms caused by stopping other opioids. It is a partial opioid agonist, which means it produces effects such as euphoria or respiratory depression at lower levels than full opioid agonists do. However, these effects plateau, so there's less potential for misuse and less danger of overdose compared to full opioid agonists.
In terms of its antagonist properties, buprenorphine binds so tightly to the opioid receptors that it can block the effects of other opioids, which can help deter misuse.
It is often combined with naloxone (a combination known as Suboxone) to decrease the risk of misuse. If the combination medication is injected, naloxone can cause withdrawal symptoms. This mechanism is intended to deter misuse by injection.
Origins of Buprenorphine
Buprenorphine was first synthesized in 1966 by the British pharmaceutical company Reckitt & Colman (which later became known as Reckitt Benckiser and then simply Reckitt). The medication was first marketed in the United States in the mid-1980s.
The development of buprenorphine was part of an effort to create a drug that could be used for pain management with less risk of addiction than other opioids. Its unique properties as a partial opioid agonist, giving it a ceiling effect for respiratory depression, make it less likely than full opioid agonists to lead to overdose.
The drug was later found to be effective for treating opioid addiction itself, as it can help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Its use for this purpose has grown significantly in the 21st century, particularly in the context of the opioid epidemic in the United States.
What are the known side effects of using Buprenorphine
Buprenorphine, like any medication, can have side effects. Some of the more common side effects may include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle aches or cramps
- Inability to sleep (insomnia)
- Distress or irritability
- Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue)
- Unusual weakness or fatigue
- Unusual weight loss
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- Difficulty urinating or changes in the amount of urine
- Slow, shallow, or difficult breathing
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or palpitations
- Feeling faint, dizzy, or confused
- Hallucinations or other severe mental or mood changes
Less common but more serious side effects can include:
As buprenorphine is an opioid medication, it also carries the risk of dependency and withdrawal. Over time, a person may develop a tolerance to the medication, meaning they need higher doses to achieve the same effect. If a person becomes dependent and then tries to stop taking the medication, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.
Importantly, the use of buprenorphine should be monitored by a healthcare provider, who can help manage any side effects and assess the risks and benefits in each individual case.
This is not a complete list of potential side effects. If you are considering or taking buprenorphine, discuss these potential side effects with your healthcare provider, and immediately report any side effects you experience.
Is buprenorphine an OTC
No, buprenorphine is not an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. It is a controlled substance and requires a prescription from a healthcare provider.
The use of buprenorphine should be closely monitored due to the potential for abuse and physical dependency. In the United States, healthcare providers need special training and must obtain a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder.
While buprenorphine has significant benefits for the treatment of opioid use disorder and pain management, it also carries risks, and should be used under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare professional.
Remember, you should always consult a healthcare provider for advice regarding any medication.