Against Our Instincts: Decriminalization of Buprenorphine

J Am Board Fam Med. 2022 Mar-Apr;35(2):394-397. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2022.02.210308.


The rate of overdose deaths has increased dramatically over the past 2 decades. Recently, efforts have been made to expand access to medications for opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine, by removing X-waiver training requirements. However, relieving such barriers has also raised concern about increasing diversion rates for buprenorphine use, defined as the use of buprenorphine for some purpose or by someone other than it was originally intended. Historically, diversion has been addressed through the criminalization of buprenorphine possession without a prescription. We argue that while buprenorphine diversion is not to be condoned, the benefits of such actions greatly outweigh the harms. Thus, criminalization of diverted buprenorphine represents a dangerous and wasteful response that threatens the progress made through expanded access to this lifesaving medication.

Keywords: Bioethics; Buprenorphine; Health Policy; Health Services Accessibility; Opioid-Related Disorders; Opioids.

MeSH terms

  • Buprenorphine* / therapeutic use
  • Drug Overdose*
  • Humans
  • Instinct
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Buprenorphine