Buprenorphine is a medication used to treat opiate addiction, and is it available in two forms: Subutex, which contains only buprenorphine, and Suboxone, which contains buprenorphine and naloxone. Using one of these medications in conjunction with traditional drug and alcohol counseling can increase a patient’s chances of maintaining lasting sobriety. As the National Institutes of Health explained in a 2008 news release, buprenorphine manipulates opiate receptors in the brain and reduces craving and withdrawal, without any of the dangerous effects associated with illicit opiate use.
In addition to enhancing patient success, buprenorphine offers a host of benefits to those in treatment. Here, learn about five reasons that buprenorphine is beneficial as part of a treatment program for opiate addiction.
When patients suffering from opiate addiction include buprenorphine in their treatment program, the public health costs of treatment are reduced. For example, a 2015 study included in Values in Health compared patients receiving buprenorphine to those not receiving any medication. Results showed that those receiving the buprenorphine had lower treatment-related costs, such as outpatient care, inpatient care, and urine tests when compared to those not taking any medication.
Retention in Treatment
Buprenorphine can help patients to stay in treatment. A 2014 study included in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that buprenorphine was more effective than a placebo at keeping patients in treatment, even at low doses. Buprenorphine can also effectively retain prisoners in treatment upon their release back into the community. A 2016 study published by the European Opiate Addiction Treatment Association found that prisoners who took opiate agonists, including buprenorphine, were significantly more likely to stay in treatment upon their release.
Safety for Patients
Patients who are prescribed buprenorphine experience increased safety, as evidenced by lower mortality risk. Prisoners included in the 2016 study by the European Opiate Addiction Treatment Association were less likely to die in the four weeks following release when they were given buprenorphine prior to discharge from prison. In addition, a 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that buprenorphine was associated with a significant decrease in heroin overdose deaths in Baltimore, Maryland, between 1995 and 2009.
Reduction in Illicit Opiate Use
Buprenorphine has been shown to be effective in stopping patients from using illicit opiates. The 2014 study in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that at high doses, buprenorphine reduced opiate use significantly more than a placebo. A 2014 study published in the journal Addiction found that patients were less likely to test positive for opiates during the first four weeks of treatment when they were prescribed buprenorphine, compared to those who were taking methadone. In 2011, researchers for Drug and Alcohol Dependence followed women involved with the criminal justice system and found that after 12 weeks of buprenorphine treatment, only 33 percent of patients tested positive for opiates, whereas 92 percent of those receiving a placebo tested positive.
Enhanced Treatment Outcomes
Patients who are taking buprenorphine experience better outcomes than do patients engaging in counseling alone. A 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that young adults who received buprenorphine in conjunction with counseling experienced significantly better outcomes than patients who underwent a standard treatment consisting of detox and counseling. Specifically, those who took buprenorphine for 12 weeks were less likely to use illicit drugs and less likely to engage in intravenous drug use.
Improved outcomes make buprenorphine an integral part of treatment for opiate addiction. Additional benefits, such as cost-effectiveness, reduction in illicit drug use, decreased mortality risk, and retention in treatment indicate that buprenorphine plays an important role in combating opiate abuse. When added to traditional therapies, buprenorphine can be the difference between recovery and recidivism to drug use.