Buprenorphine: A (Relatively) New Treatment for Opioid Dependence

Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2005 Dec;2(12):29-39.


Opioid dependence is a significant and growing problem in the United States. For nearly a century, federal regulations have made it illegal for psychiatrists and other physicians to pharmacologically manage this condition in an office-based setting using opioids. The passage of the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 has made it possible for all physicians to prescribe buprenorphine to patients in such a setting. Buprenorphine, a partial mu-opoid receptor agonist, has unique pharmacologic properties that distinguish it from methadone and other medications used in the treatment of opioid dependence. It has been shown to be as effective as methadone and is generally safe and well-tolerated. It is available in two sublingual formulations: Subutex, which contains only buprenorphine, and Suboxone, which also contains naloxone. Physicians who wish to prescribe either must obtain a special waiver from the federal government and are currently limited to prescribing it for 30 patients at a time.