A survey of buprenorphine related deaths in Singapore

Forensic Sci Int. 2006 Oct 16;162(1-3):80-6. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2006.03.037. Epub 2006 Aug 1.


Buprenorphine is available in Singapore as substitution treatment for opioid dependence since 2002. This study surveys buprenorphine related deaths in Singapore between September 2003 and December 2004. The aims are to establish the autopsy prevalence of buprenorphine related deaths and the demographical and toxicological profile of the cases. Toxicological screening was performed for all unnatural deaths, deaths involving known drug addicts, as well as when autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death. Twenty-one cases had buprenorphine detected in post-mortem blood and/or urine samples. Eighteen were sudden deaths. There were two fatal falls from height and one death by hanging. All subjects were male. The age range was 24-48 years. Fourteen subjects were between 30 and 39 years of age. The mean age was 35 years. The majority (62%) were Chinese. Eleven (52%) were known drug abusers. For sudden deaths, two groups were identified. Six cases died from natural causes. Blood buprenorphine levels ranged from undetected (detected in urine) to 3.2 ng/mL (mean 1.4 ng/mL). Twelve cases were attributed directly and indirectly to mixed drug poisoning. Blood buprenorphine levels ranged from undetected (detected in urine) to 17 ng/mL (mean 3.2 ng/mL). Nineteen cases showed concurrent abuse of buprenorphine and benzodiazepine, diazepam being the most frequently detected, followed by nitrazepam and midazolam. The availability of buprenorphine as substitution therapy is associated with an increase in buprenorphine related deaths. The danger of co-abuse of buprenorphine and benzodiazepines is highlighted.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Benzodiazepines / analysis
  • Buprenorphine / analysis
  • Buprenorphine / poisoning*
  • Death, Sudden / epidemiology
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotic Antagonists / analysis
  • Narcotic Antagonists / poisoning*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / mortality
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Poisoning / mortality
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Singapore / epidemiology
  • Substance Abuse Detection


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Buprenorphine