Precipitated opioid withdrawal after buprenorphine administration in patients presenting to the emergency department: A case series

J Am Coll Emerg Physicians Open. 2023 Jan 23;4(1):e12880. doi: 10.1002/emp2.12880. eCollection 2023 Feb.


Objectives: Buprenorphine is a highly effective medication for the treatment of opioid use disorder, but it can cause precipitated withdrawal (PW) from opioids. Incidence, risk factors, and best approaches to management of PW are not well understood. Our objective was to describe adverse outcomes after buprenorphine administration among emergency department (ED) patients and assess whether they met the criteria for PW.

Methods: This study is a case series using retrospective chart review in a convenience sample of patients from 3 hospitals in an urban academic health system. This study included patients who were reported by clinicians as potential cases of PW. Relevant clinical data were abstracted from the electronic health record using a structured retrospective chart review instrument.

Results: A total of 13 cases were included and classified into the following 3 categories: (1) PW after buprenorphine administration consistent with guidelines (n = 5), (2) PW after deviating from guidelines (n = 4), and (3) protracted opioid withdrawal with no increase in Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale score (n = 4). A total of 11 patients had urine drug testing positive for fentanyl, and 11 patients received additional doses of buprenorphine for symptom management. Of the patients, 5 had self-directed hospital discharges, and 6 were ultimately discharged with prescriptions for buprenorphine.

Conclusions: Cases of adverse outcomes after buprenorphine administration in the ED and hospital meet criteria for PW, although some cases may have represented protracted opioid withdrawal. Further investigation into the incidence, risk factors, management of PW as well as patient perspectives is needed to expand and sustain the use of buprenorphine in EDs and hospitals.