Effect of Buprenorphine Implants on Illicit Opioid Use Among Abstinent Adults With Opioid Dependence Treated With Sublingual Buprenorphine: A Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA. 2016 Jul 19;316(3):282-90. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.9382.


Importance: The effectiveness of buprenorphine treatment of opioid dependence is limited by suboptimal medication adherence, abuse, and diversion.

Objective: To determine whether 6-month buprenorphine implants are noninferior to daily sublingual buprenorphine as maintenance treatment for opioid-dependent patients with stable abstinence.

Design, setting, and participants: Outpatient, randomized, active-controlled, 24-week, double-blind, double-dummy study conducted at 21 US sites from June 26, 2014, through May 18, 2015. Outpatients were prescribed daily sublingual buprenorphine for 6 months or more, were abstinent while taking 8 mg/d or less of sublingual buprenorphine for 90 days or longer, and were determined to be clinically stable by their physician.

Interventions: Participants were randomized to receive sublingual buprenorphine plus 4 placebo implants or sublingual placebo plus four 80-mg buprenorphine hydrochloride implants (expected efficacy, 24 weeks).

Main outcome measure: The primary end point was between-group difference in proportion of responders (≥4 of 6 months without opioid-positive urine test result [monthly and 4 times randomly] and self-report). The noninferiority established for the lower bound of the 95% confidence interval was greater than -0.20 (P < .025). Secondary end points included cumulative percentage of negative opioid urine results, abstinence, and time to first illicit opioid use. Safety was assessed by adverse event reporting.

Results: Of 177 participants (mean age, 39 years; 40.9% female), 90 were randomized to sublingual buprenorphine with placebo implants and 87 to buprenorphine implants with sublingual placebo; 165 of 177 (93.2%) completed the trial. Eighty-one of 84 (96.4%) receiving buprenorphine implants and 78 of 89 (87.6%) receiving sublingual buprenorphine were responders, an 8.8% difference (1-sided 97.5% CI, 0.009 to ∞; P < .001 for noninferiority). Over 6 months, 72 of 84 (85.7%) receiving buprenorphine implants and 64 of 89 (71.9%) receiving sublingual buprenorphine maintained opioid abstinence (hazard ratio, 13.8; 95% CI, 0.018-0.258; P = .03). Non-implant-related and implant-related adverse events occurred in 48.3% and 23% of the buprenorphine implant group and in 52.8% and 13.5% of participants in the sublingual buprenorphine group, respectively.

Conclusions and relevance: Among adults with opioid dependence maintaining abstinence with a stable dose of sublingual buprenorphine, the use of buprenorphine implants compared with continued sublingual buprenorphine did not result in an inferior likelihood of remaining a responder. However, the study population had an exceptionally high response rate in the control group, and further studies are needed in broader populations to assess the efficacy in other settings.

Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT02180659.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Sublingual
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / blood
  • Buprenorphine / administration & dosage*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Implants
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcotic Antagonists / administration & dosage*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Self Report


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Drug Implants
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02180659