A comparison of buprenorphine taper outcomes between prescription opioid and heroin users

J Addict Med. 2013 Jan-Feb;7(1):33-8. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e318277e92e.


Objectives: Dependence on prescription opioids (PO) is a growing problem. Although most research with buprenorphine has focused on heroin-dependent populations, we hypothesize that individuals dependent on PO display characteristics that may predict different outcomes in treatment, particularly in short-term taper procedures in which comorbidities such as pain conditions may complicate taper.

Methods: This secondary data analysis examined differences in outcomes between PO users (n = 90) and heroin users (n = 426) after a buprenorphine taper. Data were collected in a multisite randomized clinical trial conducted by the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network at 11 study sites across the United States. After a 4-week buprenorphine induction/stabilization phase, 516 opioid-dependent individuals were randomized into 1 of 2 taper lengths (7 vs 28 days) to assess the association between taper length and outcome. The primary outcome was measured by urine drug test for opioids at the end of the taper period. Craving, withdrawal, and buprenorphine dose were also examined.

Results: After controlling for baseline demographic and drug use differences between the opioid use groups, results indicate that a higher percentage of the PO group (49%) provided an opioid-free urine drug specimen at the end of taper compared with the heroin group (36%; χ(2)(1) = 6.592, P < 0.010).

Conclusion: Short-term taper is not recommended as a stand-alone treatment; however, patients may taper from buprenorphine as part of a treatment plan. Despite greater comorbidity, PO users seem to have favorable taper outcomes compared with heroin users. Further studies are required to examine longer-term treatment outcomes.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00078117.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Buprenorphine / administration & dosage*
  • Demography
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Heroin / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotic Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Narcotics / pharmacology
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment* / methods
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment* / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Buprenorphine
  • Heroin

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00078117