Non-Prescribed Buprenorphine in New York City: Motivations for Use, Practices of Diversion, and Experiences of Stigma

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2016 Nov;70:81-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2016.08.002. Epub 2016 Aug 12.


Non-medical use of opioid analgesics (OAs) has increased in the United States over the past decade. Concurrently, access to opioid agonist therapies (OATs) such as buprenorphine has expanded. However, there has been little in-depth qualitative exploration into circumstances surrounding buprenorphine diversion and non-prescribed use. This study reports on qualitative data from in-depth interviews conducted with persons in New York City reporting non-medical OA use in the past 12 months. Participants (n=42) were aged between 18 and 49 years. The majority were male (n=29) and non-Hispanic White (n=35). All participants self-reported physical opioid dependence. Motivations for non-prescribed buprenorphine use included the abatement of withdrawal symptoms or a self-initiated detoxification or treatment plan. Few participants reported buprenorphine use for euphoric effect, and no participants reported using buprenorphine as a primary drug. Buprenorphine diversion primarily occurred as a means of supporting ongoing illicit drug use, and no participants reported selling buprenorphine as a primary source of income. Participants reported misinformation around some key areas of buprenorphine induction and use, as well as stigma within peer networks and from drug treatment providers. As access to buprenorphine treatment continues to expand in the United States, enhancing patient education is a critical step toward minimizing diversion and incidental harms from non-prescribed use.

Keywords: Buprenorphine; Diversion; Non-medical prescription drug use; Opioid analgesics; Qualitative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • Buprenorphine / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Prescription Drug Diversion
  • Prescription Drug Misuse*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Stigma*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Buprenorphine