Key Researchers


Overview of Buprenorphine Treatment for Opioid Addiction


Robin E. Clark, Ph.D., and Jeffrey D. Baxter, M.D., Center for Health Policy and Research, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Review Panel: Adam J. Gordon, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P., FASAM, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A., The Addiction Institute of New York, John A. Renner, Jr., M.D., Boston University School of Medicine
Introduction: The most effective treatment for people addicted to opioids - which include illegal drugs such as heroin and prescription medications such as OxyContin and Vicodin - is "substitution therapy" in which patients are given a safer opioid medication that helps prevent withdrawal and relapse to drug abuse. Opioid substitution therapy works best when combined with counseling services and other addiction recovery programs, and has been shown to decrease death rates in opioid addicted patients (National Consensus Development Panel on Effective Treatment of Opiate Addiction, 1998).

Methadone maintenance therapy has long been viewed as the gold standard for substitution therapy. However, due to concerns about abuse and overdose, methadone treatment for opioid addiction is limited to specially licensed programs that usually require daily visits from patients (Kleber 2008). This restrictive environment is a key reason why methadone reaches less than 15% to 20% of patients needing treatment for opioid addiction (Mark, Woody, et al. 2001; Center for Substance Abuse Treatment 2005).

Buprenorphine is a newly approved medication that is an effective alternative to methadone. Because it is safer and less susceptible to abuse, recently enacted federal legislation has permitted buprenorphine treatment to be delivered by qualified physicians in their offices, in addition to specialty treatment programs. This change in the way treatment is provided has allowed substitution therapy to be offered to more patients, in more locations, at earlier stages of disease (Fiellin, Rosenheck, et al., 2001; Sullivan, Chawarski, et al., 2005).

Date Updated :
Original Date: Mar. 2009

Clark, R.E. and Baxter, J.D.; Buprenorphine Knowledge Asset, Web site created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Substance Abuse Policy Research Program; March 2009.,

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