It has been found to be effective in reducing the need to continue using heroin (buprenorphine maintenance) and also in helping people to withdraw from heroin and methadone. Buprenorphine is also prescribed to treat severe pain.
How effective is buprenorphine?
The effectiveness of any treatment, including for heroin or other opioid dependency (addiction), is more likely to be successful if it is part of a comprehensive treatment program.
Often, a range of factors contribute to an individual’s use of drugs. Thus, it is strongly recommended that those wanting to remain free of heroin engage in a treatment program that addresses the physical (the body), psychological (the mind) and environmental issues relating to the person’s drug use. This may involve combining several treatment approaches, such as buprenorphine maintenance, counselling, alternative or holistic therapies such as massage and naturopathic treatment; and developing a positive support network including peers, family and friends and support groups.
As with any type of treatment or approach to heroin dependency, buprenorphine maintenance may be effective for some people but will not suit everyone. A doctor or drug counsellor who spends time assessing the person’s specific situation and explaining different options will recommend an approach that is appropriate for that individual.
Advantages of buprenorphine maintenance treatment
There are many benefits of being on buprenorphine maintenance, when compared with continuing the use of heroin:
- Maintenance treatment holds the person stable while they readjust their lives. The person may decide later to work towards reducing their dose of buprenorphine until they no longer require medical treatment.
- Using buprenorphine on its own is unlikely to result in an overdose.
- Health problems are reduced or avoided, especially those related to injecting, such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses, skin infections and vein problems.
- Doses are required only once a day, sometimes even less often, because buprenorphine’s effects are long lasting.
- Buprenorphine is much cheaper than heroin.
- Staying off heroin can provide the opportunity to experience more ‘life opportunities’, such as. greater personal happiness, more close and stable relationships with others, employment and more money to buy goods for personal enjoyment.