Buprenorphine for the management of opioid withdrawal

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(3):CD002025. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002025.


Background: Managed withdrawal, or detoxification, is not in itself a treatment for opioid dependence, but it is a required first step for many forms of longer-term treatment. It may also represent the end point of an extensive period of treatment such as methadone maintenance. As such, managed withdrawal is an essential component of an effective treatment system. This review is one of a series that aims to assess the evidence as to the effectiveness of the variety of approaches to managing opioid withdrawal.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of interventions involving the short-term use of buprenorphine to manage the acute phase of opioid withdrawal.

Search strategy: Multiple electronic databases, including Medline, Embase, Psychlit, Australian Medical Index and Current Contents, were searched using a strategy designed to retrieve references broadly addressing the management of opioid withdrawal. Reference lists of retrieved studies, reviews and conference abstracts were handsearched.

Selection criteria: We included randomised or quasi-randomised controlled clinical trials or prospective controlled cohort studies comparing buprenorphine (treatment 10 days or less) with another form of treatment. Studies were required to provide detailed information on the type and dose of drugs used and the characteristics of patients treated. Studies were also required to provide information on the nature of withdrawal signs and symptoms experienced, the occurrence of adverse effects OR rates of completion of the withdrawal episode.

Data collection and analysis: Potentially relevant studies were assessed for inclusion by one reviewer (LG). Inclusion decisions were confirmed by consultation between reviewers. Included studies were assessed by all reviewers. One reviewer (LG) undertook data extraction with the process confirmed by consultation between all three reviewers.

Main results: Five studies met the criteria for inclusion in the review. No data tables are included in this review and no meta-analysis has been undertaken because of differences in treatment regimes and the assessment of outcomes in these studies. Four studies compared buprenorphine with clonidine. All found withdrawal to be less severe in the buprenorphine treatment group. In three of these studies all participants were withdrawing from heroin. Participants in one study were withdrawing from methadone, with doses reduced to 10mg/day prior to treatment with buprenorphine. Three of the studies commented on residual symptoms experienced by participants treated with buprenorphine to manage heroin withdrawal. Aches, restlessness, yawning, mydriasis, tremor, insomnia, nausea and mild anxiety were reported as being experienced by some participants. Rates of completion of withdrawal were able to be calculated for all studies included in the review but the definition of completion varied between studies. Rates ranged from 65% to 100%. None of the studies included in the review reported adverse effects. However, approximately approximately Lintzeris 1999a approximately approximately (a single-group study which therefore did not meet the inclusion criteria) reported 50% of participants withdrawing from heroin experienced headaches, 28% sedation, 21% nausea, 21% constipation, 21% anxiety, 17% dizziness and 17% itchiness during withdrawal. These adverse effects were most common in the first 2-3 days of treatment and then subsided. In four of the five studies treatment was undertaken on an inpatient basis. Only approximately approximately O'Connor 1997 approximately approximately provided outpatient treatment. However, two studies that did not meet the inclusion criteria ( approximately approximately Diamant 1998 approximately approximately and approximately approximately Lintzeris 1999a approximately approximately ) also provided outpatient treatment. The findings of these studies support the feasibility of heroin withdrawal being managed with buprenorphine on an outpatient basis

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / complications
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy*


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine