Approach to buprenorphine use for opioid withdrawal treatment in the emergency setting

Published:October 11, 2018DOI:



      Opioid use disorder (OUD) is increasing in prevalence throughout the world, with approximately three million individuals in the United States affected. Buprenorphine is a medication designed, researched, and effectively used to assist in OUD recovery.


      This narrative review discusses an approach to initiating buprenorphine in the emergency department (ED) for opioid-abuse recovery.


      Buprenorphine is a partial mu-opioid receptor agonist with high affinity and low intrinsic activity. Buprenorphine's long half-life, high potency, and ‘ceiling effect’ for both euphoric sensation and adverse effects make it an optimal treatment alternative for patients presenting to the ED with opioid withdrawal. While most commonly provided as a sublingual film or tablet, buprenorphine can also be delivered via transbuccal, transdermal, subdermal (implant), subcutaneous, and parenteral routes. Prior to ED administration, caution is recommended to avoid precipitation of buprenorphine-induced opioid withdrawal. Following the evaluation of common opioid withdrawal symptoms, a step-by-step approach to buprenorphine can by utilized to reach a sustained withdrawal relief. A multimodal medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan involving pharmacologic treatment, as well as counseling and behavioral therapy, is essential to maintaining opioid remission. Patients may be safely discharged with safe-use counseling, close outpatient follow-up, and return precautions for continued management of their OUD. Establishing a buprenorphine program in the ED involves a multifactorial approach to establish a pro-buprenorphine culture.


      Buprenorphine is an evidence-based, safe, effective treatment option for OUD in an ED-setting. Though successfully utilized by many ED-based treatment programs, the stigma of ‘replacing one opioid with another’ remains a barrier. Evidence-based discussions on the safety and benefits of buprenorphine are essential to promoting a culture of acceptance and optimizing ED OUD treatment.


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