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Buprenorphine Patient Tips

How it works

Buprenorphine acts on opioid receptors to provide pain relief. It is classed as an opioid analgesic.


  • Used for the treatment of moderate-to-severe pain.
  • The injectable form may be used postoperatively or for relief of moderate-to-severe pain associated with conditions such as cancer, kidney stones, and nerve disorders.
  • Transdermal systems (patches) should only be used by those with severe pain requiring continuous, round-the-clock pain relief.
  • The sublingual (under the tongue) form may be used in the treatment of opiate dependence under strict conditions.


If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:

  • Respiratory depression (severe difficulty with breathing) is the main toxicity associated with buprenorphine. More likely to occur in the elderly, debilitated, or in those with preexisting breathing problems. Risk is higher with IV administration.
  • May cause sleepiness, dizziness and affect a person's ability to drive or operate machinery. Avoid alcohol.
  • May also cause vertigo, nausea, headache and serious liver effects; tests that monitor liver function may be needed.
  • May cause a severe lowering of blood pressure, or a sudden drop in blood pressure when going from sitting to standing.
  • Potential for abuse is high, similar to other opioid analgesics. Risk may be higher in those with a personal or family history of substance abuse or a psychiatric disorder.
  • Risk of heart rhythm disorders (such as QT prolongation), particularly at higher dosages.
  • May cause a psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Transdermal systems may cause irritation or a rash at the site of application.

Notes: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. For a complete list of all side effects, click here.

Bottom Line

Buprenorphine is a potent analgesic with a high potential for respiratory depression.


  • Some forms of buprenorphine have a REMS (Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy) associated with them which means you will need to fill in a patient enrolment form with your healthcare prescriber. Always read the medication guide prescribed with buprenorphine.
  • Avoid exposing site where patch is located to excessive heat (such as electric blankets, saunas, or prolonged direct sunlight) as this may cause faster-than-normal release of buprenorphine, increasing the risk of overdosage and death.
  • Sublingual tablets must be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve; swallowing the tablets reduces how much buprenorphine is actually absorbed.
  • Sublingual strips should be placed side-by-side on the tongue (minimize overlapping), and allowed to dissolve. Avoid talking, chewing or swallowing while a strip is dissolving.
  • Transdermal patches should be applied to a clean, dry, nonirritated, hairless or nearly hairless area of skin on the upper chest, back, or arm, or side of the chest. Hair may need to be clipped prior to application (not shaved). Only use water to clean the area of skin prior to application as other substances (such as soaps, oils, or gels) may alter the absorption of the drug. Transdermal system should be worn continuously for seven days and then subsequent systems applied to different sites after removal of the previous system. Discard used patches carefully and out of reach of children or pets.

Response and Effectiveness

  • Analgesic effect usually occurs within 10-30 minutes following injectable administration; peak analgesic effects occur within 60 minutes. Effect usually lasts an average of six hours but may persist for longer or shorter in some patients.


Buprenorphine injection [package insert]. Revised 01/2015. Par Pharmaceutical Inc. Accessed 02/2016

  • Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use buprenorphine only for the indication prescribed.

  • Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, up-to-date, and complete, but no guarantee is made to that effect. Drug information contained herein may be time sensitive. This drug information does not endorse drugs, diagnose patients or recommend therapy. It is an informational resource designed as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise, skill, knowledge and judgment of healthcare practitioners. The absence of a warning for a given drug or drug combination in no way should be construed to indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective or appropriate for any given patient. does not assume any responsibility for any aspect of healthcare administered with the aid of this information. The information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. If you have questions about the drugs you are taking, check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Copyright 1996-2017 Revision Date: 2016-02-23 00:00:00