Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication used to treat Opioid Use Disorder. It helps people who suffer from opioid addiction to control their drug cravings along with withdrawal symptoms.

It is important to be aware of the risks and benefits before taking buprenorphine in order to make an informed decision.

In this article, we will discuss how buprenorphine works to treat opioid addiction and what risks you need to be aware of.

What is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication used as part of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for mild to moderate Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

It is sold under various names, including Brixadi and Suboxone. Buprenorphine can be administered either in a sublingual tablet form, as sublingual films, or as injections.

Buprenorphine works by acting on the opioid receptors as a partial opioid agonist. This means that it mimics the effects of prescription and illegal opioids and helps to manage drug cravings and opioid withdrawal symptoms.

It is a safer option than other opioid replacements, as it has a ceiling effect. This means that even if you take a large amount, there is a lower risk of respiratory depression – a deadly side effect of opioid overdose.

The Common Side Effects of Buprenorphine

Like any medication, you can expect some side effects when taking buprenorphine.

It is important that you discuss any adverse reactions with your healthcare provider to help manage these symptoms.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) common side effects include:

  • Constipation, headache, nausea, and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Tooth decay
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Inability to sleep
  • Fever
  • Blurred vision or dilated pupils
  • Tremors
  • Palpitations
  • Disturbance in attention.

Your doctor will likely ask you about your medical history before prescribing you this medication.

They may also ask you about any presence of liver disease, an irregular heartbeat, or damage to your adrenal glands to try to minimize the risk of side effects.

Serious Side Effects and Risks of Buprenorphine

It is important to be aware of the potential for serious side effects of Buprenorphine, especially if the medication is misused or taken with other drugs.

Serious adverse effects of Buprenorphine include:

  • Respiratory distress (slow breathing, or shallow breathing)
  • Overdose
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Opioid dependence
  • Withdrawal
  • Itching, pain, swelling, and nerve damage (implant)
  • Pain at injection site (injection)
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (in newborns).

If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, it is important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

You should also seek medication advice if you start to feel unwell, especially if you have trouble breathing, feel very tired or confused all of a sudden, or have severe diarrhea or vomiting.

These are all signs of dangerous side effects and may require immediate medical attention.

Long-term Side Effects of Buprenorphine

It is important to note that although long-term use of buprenorphine has some side effects, the benefits of long-term use often outweigh the risks.

Studies conducted showed that using buprenorphine for 15 months, or longer, reduced hospitalizations by over 50%, reduced overdose risk, and prevented relapse, more than short-term use.

For that reason, many healthcare professionals will suggest that you continue to take the medication for an extended period of time.

However, some of the risks of long-term buprenorphine use include the development of tolerance, which means you need a larger dose of the medication to produce the same effect.

This means that people who experience chronic pain may need stronger medication to control the pain.

It is also important to note that buprenorphine is technically addictive and can result in physical dependence.

Managing Side Effects and Safety Precautions While Taking Buprenorphine

1. Take as prescribed:

In order to avoid the more serious side effects, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions when taking this medication.

It is also vital that you take the correct dose to prevent uncomfortable side effects.

2. Avoid alcohol and sedatives:

Because opioids have a sedative effect, it is important to avoid alcohol and other sedative drugs.

These can worsen the depressant effects of buprenorphine (such as slowing down breathing), making it a dangerous combination.

3. Store safely out of reach:

In order to prevent kids (or pets) from accidentally taking the medication, it is important to keep it out of reach of curious hands.

Buprenorphine should not be used in children under the age of 18 and can cause serious side effects for young children.

4. Dispose of properly:

In order to avoid taking too much of the medication and experiencing side effects, it is important to properly dispose of excess medication.

Additionally, if you are taking the injectable form of the medication, it is vital to properly dispose of sharps.

5. Inform healthcare providers of other medications:

Different medications can interact with Buprenorphine.

Some may make the medication less effective, whilst others may increase the concentration of the drug in your body.

It is important to inform your doctor of all medications and supplements you plan to take, such as Delavirdine, Atazanavir, Rifampin, and St John’s Wort.

6. Avoid driving or operating machinery:

Because Buprenorphine is an opioid medication, it can slow your reaction times and make you feel drowsy.

For this reason, it is important to avoid driving, or operating heavy machinery like forklifts when taking this medication. If you plan on driving, discuss this with your doctor first.

7. Monitor for allergic reactions:

It is important to check for allergic reactions before you take this medication, particularly if you are prone to allergies.

Although allergic reactions are rare, there is a small risk of severe allergies. If you notice swelling, difficulty breathing, or skin rashes, it is vital to seek medical attention immediately.

8. Keep appointments for check-ups:

It can be tempting to skip appointments if you feel well taking Buprenorphine.

However, it is important to regularly go in for check-ups as your doctor may notice side effects that you do not.

Key Takeaway

Buprenorphine can be used as part of Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder.

Although it is effective in treating opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, it is vital to be aware of the potential side effects.

If you experience any adverse effects or have any concerns, it’s best to discuss these with a healthcare professional sooner rather than later.

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