There are a number of factors that can contribute to an individual overdosing on opioids, and one of the most significant is using opioids without a tapering plan. Buprenorphine can be an important tool in helping to reduce the chance of overdose by tapering off opioids slowly and safely. As part of a medication assisted treatment program, buprenorphine can help to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings, making it more likely that an individual will be successful in quitting opioids.
What Is Buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine is a medication that is used to treat opioid addiction. It is a partial opioid agonist, which means that it binds to opioid receptors in the brain but does not produce the same level of euphoria or sedation as other opioids.
Over the years, buprenorphine has been proven to be an effective medication to provide brain stability for those with opioid addiction. Many inpatient drug rehab programs and outpatient addiction treatment providers provide medications containing buprenorphine to patients. The biggest problem with buprenorphine is that most patients stop taking it too soon.
The National Quality Forum recently endorsed a minimum treatment time of six months when a patient is provided buprenorphine for addiction. The American Journal of Psychiatry recently published a study based on multi-state Medicaid claims pulled for four years covering over 45,000 beneficiaries. The goal was to compare cohorts of patients who were treated with buprenorphine products for various durations of time. Not surprisingly, patients who stayed on buprenorphine longer tended to do better:
- Far fewer overdoses reported
- Fewer inpatient hospitalizations
- Not as many reported emergency department visits
- A lower number of opioid prescriptions filled
Adverse medical results were common among just under half of the entire patient population who stayed on buprenorphine for less than 15 months. However, once that time in treatment was attained, emergency room visits, inpatient hospitalizations, opioid prescription fills, and other adverse medical results all went down significantly. When buprenorphine was discontinued anywhere along the treatment timeline, the risks of adverse consequences increased.
Myths and Facts About Buprenorphine Use
This research is important to recognize because there are a lot of myths about buprenorphine and medication assisted treatment (MAT). For starters, it is crucial to make sure that the drug rehab or outpatient addiction treatment programs use a non-punitive approach to medication dispensing. This means that a patient gets the medication they need to provide brain stability virtually regardless of their other actions (skipping group, showing up late to counseling, etc.). If the patient needs buprenorphine for neurological stability, it should be given to them so that they can function and reduce the risk of relapse or overdose.
It is also crucial that patients who need to stay on buprenorphine for longer periods of time are allowed to do so without stigma or fear of doing something wrong. Some people need buprenorphine for 18 months to reduce their likelihood of relapse or overdose, but other people may need it for three or five years. Still, others may require medication assisted treatment for their addiction for the rest of their lives—and that’s okay.
Some patients do better with methadone. Others need Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone). Still others do far better with a once-monthly treatment like Vivitrol. No one should ever be looked down on because they chose a different medication. If Vivitrol works best for one and methadone is better for another, it’s wonderful that both are stable and in recovery. Any medication assisted treatment is better than opioid addiction.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that medication is not the end-all be-all of treatment. Counseling, groups, peer support, and social services are crucial. If someone’s goal is to cycle off of Suboxone or lower their methadone dose, they need to be in groups, going to counseling sessions, talking to peer supporters, and engaging with social services.
Medication Assisted Treatment at BrightView
Recovery is possible, and we can help those affected by addiction start and maintain recovery. From buprenorphine to Vivitrol, we offer a range of medication assisted treatments because we know that not every person will respond to the same treatment in the same way. We also offer a range of counseling and therapy services to help our patients build the skills they need for long-term recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please reach out to us at 888.501.9865. We are here to help.