Buprenorphine Therapy for Opioid Use Disorder

Am Fam Physician. 2018 Mar 1;97(5):313-320.


Opioid misuse, including the use of heroin and the overprescribing, misuse, and diversion of opioid pain medications, has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in opioid use disorder and associated overdoses and deaths. Addiction is a chronic brain disease with a genetic component that affects motivation, inhibition, and cognition. Patient characteristics associated with successful buprenorphine maintenance treatment include stable or controlled medical or psychiatric comorbidities and a safe, substance-free environment. As a partial opioid agonist, buprenorphine has a ceiling effect that limits respiratory depression and adds to its safety in accidental or intentional overdose. Buprenorphine and combinations of buprenorphine and naloxone are generally well tolerated; adverse effects include anxiety, constipation, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, nausea, and sedation. Family physicians who meet specific requirements can obtain a Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 waiver by notifying the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of their intent to begin dispensing and/or prescribing buprenorphine. Medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine is as effective as methadone in terms of treatment retention and decreased opioid use when prescribed at fixed dosages of at least 7 mg per day; dosages of 16 mg per day are clearly superior to placebo. Sporadic opioid use is not uncommon in the first few months of medication-assisted treatment and should be addressed by increased visit frequency and more intensive engagement with behavioral therapies. Follow-up visits should include documentation of any relapses, reemergence of cravings or withdrawal, random urine drug testing, pill or wrapper counts, and checks of state prescription drug database records.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Prescriptions / standards*
  • Humans
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Buprenorphine