Conversion from high-dose full-opioid agonists to sublingual buprenorphine reduces pain scores and improves quality of life for chronic pain patients

Pain Med. 2014 Dec;15(12):2087-94. doi: 10.1111/pme.12520. Epub 2014 Sep 12.


Objective: This study aims to determine the effectiveness of converting patients from high doses of full-opioid agonists to sublingual (SL) buprenorphine.

Design: An observational report of outcomes assessment.

Setting: An interventional pain management practice setting in the United States.

Subjects: Thirty-five chronic pain patients (age 24-66) were previously treated with high-dose opioid-agonist drugs and converted to SL buprenorphine. Patients' daily morphine equivalents ranged from 200 mg to 1,370 mg preconversion, with a mean daily dose of 550 mg.

Methods: A retrospective chart analysis examined numerical pain levels and quality of life scores before and 2 months after conversion to SL buprenorphine.

Results: After continuation of SL buprenorphine therapy for 2 months, the mean pain score decreased from 7.2 to 3.5 (P < 0.001), with 34 of the 35 patients examined reporting a decrease in pain. This pain score decrease was robust with regard to initial pain score and preconversion morphine equivalent dosage. Quality of life scores improved from 6.1 to 7.1 (P = 0.005).

Conclusion: Average pain scores decreased from 7.2 to 3.5, and quality of life scores increased from 6.1 to 7.1 for 35 patients converted from high-dose full-opioid agonists to SL buprenorphine therapy for more than 60 days. Clinicians should consider buprenorphine SL conversion for all patients on high-dose opioids, particularly patients with severe pain (7-10) unrelieved by their current opioid regimen or patients for whom the clinician does not feel comfortable prescribing high-dose opioids.

Keywords: Analgesia; Buprenorphine; Opioid Conversion; Opioid Tolerance; Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia; Sublingual Buprenorphine.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Sublingual
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Buprenorphine / administration & dosage*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / methods*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Quality of Life
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Buprenorphine