Buprenorphine Treatment for Opiate Addiction-2024


Beginning Buprenorphine Treatment

Avoiding precipitated withdrawal with home induction


The goal of induction (the beginning of treatment) is to
suppress the symptoms of cravings and withdrawal as quickly as possible
with adequate doses of buprenorphine. Under certain conditions
buprenorphine can trigger the onset of withdrawal
symptoms. This is avoidable, but if it does happen, taking
more buprenorphine eventually stops the withdrawal

What is precipitated withdrawal?

Your first dose of buprenorphine can actually trigger (precipitate), withdrawal symptoms in some cases. It does this by expelling and then replacing opioid molecules already attached to the opioid receptors in the brain. When buprenorphine replaces the other stronger opioids, the buprenorphine produces a much weaker opioid effect. The cumulative effect of millions of receptors being replaced with less effect-producing buprenorphine is a sudden net decrease in overall opioid effect. In some cases this decrease may extend below the minimum amount of opioid effect needed to stave off withdrawal. This is experienced by the patient as intense withdrawal symptoms from a sudden decrease of overall opioid effect. Being in mild withdrawal before starting buprenorphine prevents this sudden drastic onset.1

Advancement in Understanding

cows avoiding precipitated withdrawal
Precipitated Withdrawal

Early recommendations (without the benefit of years of clinical experience) called for a slow increase of buprenorphine with low maximum doses for the first few days. Often these minimum doses were not enough to suppress withdrawal and patients would not return for day 2 of the process, some would relapse and die. With clinical experience it was found that dosing-to-effect on day one saved lives. No longer were there maximum doses, instead the patients would receive increasing doses of buprenorphine until objective and subjective signs and symptoms of the addiction were suppressed. This meant many patients received a total of 16mgs of buprenorphine on day one, with some methadone transfers requiring 32mgs. 1,2


The patient should be in mild to moderate withdrawal before taking the first dose of buprenorphine. Don't go by some set time from last use, instead go by symptoms. There is actually a scientific way to rate symptoms with this guide - COWS. It is not necessary to be in withdrawal for very long, or be in deep withdrawal. Some physicians recommend fasting for the previous 12 hours in case you experience nausea during the induction.1

First dose of buprenorphine

If you have a very low level of physical dependence, start at 1mg. For midrange levels of physical dependence start at 2mgs, and for high levels start at 4mgs.1

Subsequent doses of buprenorphine

Thirty minutes after the first dose evaluate the symptoms using the COWS. While symptoms score above 10 take an additional 2mgs. Do this every 30 minutes until symptoms of withdrawal and cravings stop. Typically this happens around 4-16mgs, but with some methadone transfers or time release Oxycodone medications it could require much more. For others 2mgs will be all that is needed.1

Buprenorphine Stabilization

Buprenorphine builds up in the blood, it will take about 10 days to stabilize. This also means the effects of dose decreases cannot be reliably evaluated until 10 days after the change.1

Fine tune buprenorphine dose

After stabilization and the risk of relapse has diminished it's a good time to fine tune the dose so you are not taking more than needed. To do this drop 2mgs (or 25% if your dose is less than or equal to 4mgs) every 10 days until withdrawal symptoms become noticeable, then go back up 2mgs (or 25%). This is your minimum effective dose.

What if you put yourself into precipitated withdrawal?

If you feel more withdrawal after taking the buprenorphine than before, then you are experiencing precipitate withdrawal. To fix it you take more buprenorphine. This might seem strange to some people because if some buprenorphine causes withdrawal won't more cause more withdrawal? No. Remember, the cause of the withdrawal is not enough opioid effect, and buprenorphine causes opioid effect, so taking more will eventually breach the threshold of withdrawal and suppress symptoms. Follow the same procedure and increase by 2mgs. every 30 minutes.

  1. TIP-40, buprenorphine treatment clinical guidance - government document 2004
  2. PCSS clinical guidance on buprenorphine induction- Buprenorphine induction - clinical experience
  3. Home induction of buprenorphine - study
  4. Anecdotal evidence compiled from several social media sites over a period of several years
  5. NAABT- Avoiding precipitated withdrawal published 2011


  1. Brand names for buprenorphine/naloxone (bup/nx)

    combination products in the US:
    Suboxone Film
    Bunavail(discontinued in 2020)
    , and generic equivalents of the discontinued Suboxone Sublingual Tablets.
  2. Buprenorphine products in the US WITHOUT the added naloxone

    1. Subutex Tablets
      discontinued in 2009
      ) but the
      generic equivalents remain available
    2. Buprenex®
      is an injectable,
      FDA approved for pain
      NOT addiction -
      illegal to prescribe for opioid addiction
    3. Butrans®
      Patch, also
      FDA approved for pain
      and NOT addiction -
      illegal to prescribe for opioid addiction
    4. Pharmacy-compounded bup or bup/nx
      preparations - NOT FDA approved for addiction -
      illegal to prescribe for opioid addiction
  3. Probuphine®
    is an insertable
    buprenorphine rod
    which goes under the skin and releases bup over the course of 6 months. It
    was FDA approved in May of 2016
    , and is for the treatment of addiction.
  4. Belbuca™
    is a
    buprenorphine film
    which goes on the inside of the cheek. It
    was FDA approved in October of 2015
    , and is for the treatment of pain - NOT FDA approved for addiction -
    illegal to prescribe for opioid addiction
  5. Sublocade™
    , from the makers of Suboxone®, is a once-monthly buprenorphine subcutaneous injection, FDA approved 11/2017 for the treatment of opioid use disorder (opioid addiction).
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  1. Nothing on this website should be confused for medical advice. The information provided here should only serve to inspire you to find out more from credible sources. We hope to help you understand the disease better so that you know what questions to ask your doctor. Never take any online medical advice over that of a healthcare professional, assume it's all made up. Despite the links to peer reviewed studies all interpretations of said studies may be opinion, unreliable or erroneous. If some patients found something beneficial to them it's not an indication that it will be beneficial to you, on the contrary, it may be dangerous. You, not us, are responsible for what you do with the information you get from this website or any website.

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