Please note: The information given on this page is not medical advice and should not be relied upon in this way. Individuals wanting medical advice on this issue should consult a health professional.
Buprenorphine (pronounced bew-pre-nor-feen) is a prescription drug.
It is taken as a replacement for heroin in the treatment of heroin dependence. Replacing a prescribed drug to treat a drug of dependence in this way is known as pharmacotherapy. As well as improving wellbeing by preventing physical withdrawal, pharmacotherapy helps to stabilise the lives of people who are dependent on heroin and other opioids, and to reduce the harms related to drug use.
Buprenorphine pharmacotherapy can be used to:
There are two formulations of buprenorphine available for people on pharmacotherapy treatment in Victoria:
How is it used?
Suboxone Sublingual Film® is a lime-flavoured, rectangular, orange film, which is placed under the tongue to dissolve. The film will not work properly if it is chewed or swallowed.3
Subutex Sublingual Tablets® are also placed under the tongue to dissolve and will not work properly if chewed or swallowed.4
Buprenorphine treatment is more likely to be successful if it is part of a comprehensive treatment program, which addresses the body, mind and environment in which heroin has been used.
For example, treatment may include a combination of buprenorphine, counselling, alternative therapies and the development of a positive support network of peers, friends and a support group.1
Buprenorphine maintenance may not work for everyone, so it is important to work with a doctor or drug counsellor to find the best approach.
Advantages of buprenorphine maintenance over heroin use
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. Even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It's important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Buprenorphine affects everyone differently, based on:
The most common side effects of buprenorphine are:
Withdrawal from long-term use of buprenorphine may produce some symptoms similar to those experienced through heroin withdrawal. However, symptoms tend to be milder than for heroin or other opioids such as methadone withdrawal.1 Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, but may include:
Reducing the risks
1. Lintzeris. N, Clark. N, Winstock. A, Dunlop. A, Muhleisen. P, Gowing. L, Ali. R, Ritter. A, Bell. J, Quigley. A, Mattick. RP, Monheit. B., & White. J. (2006). National clinical guidelines and procedures for the use of buprenorphine in the treatment of opioid dependence [PDF:3MB].
2. Harm Reduction Victoria. (n.d.) Buprenorphine (Subutex).
3. NPS MedicineWise (n.d.) Suboxone Sublingual Film.
4. Lintzeris, N., & Bath, N. (n.d.) Subutex: A guide to treatment [PDF:1MB].
5. Wodak, A., (2001). Drug treatment for opioid dependence.
Last updated: 5 May 2016