Buprenorphine is a treatment for opioid addiction. It is not switching one addiction for another, not legalized addiction nor does it simply enable ongoing drug abuse. Instead, it is used to suppress the symptoms of cravings and withdrawal experienced by opioid-addicted patients.

Buprenorphine is opioid-based itself but has significant differences with common opioids of abuse. It has a limit to its effects, which is at or just above typical therapeutic doses and it can block the effects of other opioids, greatly reducing the risk of overdose.

Suppressing cravings

When prescribed to opioid-addicted patients, it works by inducing enough opioid effect to suppress cravings and withdrawal, but not enough to elicit the euphoria needed to perpetuate the addiction cycle. Patients overwhelmingly describe the way buprenorphine makes them feel “normal.” The result is typically an end to compulsive use, regain of control and suppression of cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

"Patients overwhelmingly describe the way buprenorphine makes them feel “normal.” The result is typically an end to compulsive use, regain of control and suppression of cravings and withdrawal symptoms."

With symptoms suppressed the patient has the opportunity to address the causes and enablers of the addiction.  It is this deliberate effort to recognize, then to change, behavior, environment, thinking and circumstance which is the actual recovery process, not the act of taking the medication. A therapist, counselor and support system help the patient achieve these necessary life changes.

Making strides

Buprenorphine medications continue to improve with the latest versions offering the potential of fewer side effects due to the more efficient transfer of medication to the body.

Once the craving-causing brain adaptations have been mitigated, the buprenorphine may no longer be necessary and can be tapered off. At that point other medications such as naltrexone, are sometimes used to reduce the chance of relapse by rendering opioids of abuse ineffective.

The goal of buprenorphine treatment is to stop the destructive addictive behavior and quality-of-life killing cravings. Some people may need medication for life to achieve this, but they are no less successful than those who can maintain addiction remission without medication.