Does Experimentation = Abuse?
Buprenorphine can be abused by people who don’t have a medical reason to take the medication, but also by people with a doctor’s prescription. You might be lying to yourself by thinking:
- “I can’t abuse buprenorphine because I have a prescription.”
- “Buprenorphine will help me relax. That’s not really drug abuse!”
- “I only take it occasionally and don’t really get high.”
But, let’s get real…abusing buprenorphine is never recommended! Taking it for entertainment, pleasure, and in ways other than intended can be dangerous and is considered to be drug abuse. In addition, abusing the medication for an extended period of time can lead to physical and psychological dependence.
In this article, we cover more about how buprenorphine is abused. We’ll look at the tell-tale signs and adverse side effects of its misuse. Then, we offer strategies and resources to help you deal with buprenorphine abuse. At the end, we welcome you to post your questions and try to provide personal and prompt answers.
How Is Buprenorphine Abused?
CASE 1: When you DO have a buprenorphine prescription.
Buprenorphine is a drug with medicinal value. It is an effective painkiller helping people manage moderate to severe chronic pain, and is used in the treatment of addiction to opiates including morphine, heroin and codeine.
However, many believe that just because they are using buprenorphine as a part of treatment for a medical condition, they cannot abuse it. Sometimes abuse is unintentional as people feel like they need more due to a build up in tolerance to buprenorphine. Other times, patients engage in serious illegal activities, such as:
- Obtaining multiple buprenorphine prescriptions from different doctors (a.k.a. doctor shopping).
- Forging prescriptions.
- Pretending to have lost their medication just to obtain more buprenorphine.
CASE 2: When you DON’T have a prescription for buprenorphine.
Taking buprenorphine that is not prescribed by a physician is a form of abuse called ‘drug diversion’. Buprenorphine may be abused illegally in various ways:
- Taking someone else’s medicine with or without their knowledge.
- Purchasing buprenorphine pills online through internet drug pharmacies.
- Individuals battling addiction to a short-acting opioid drug like heroin use buprenorphine in between doses to keep
- withdrawal symptoms from occurring.
- Buying it off of dealers on the street or acquaintances who have a some extra pills left from their prescription.
Signs of a Problem
A person abusing buprenorphine may exhibit a mix of behavioral, physical, and psychological signs that can signal you when something might be wrong. If you suspect a friend, family member, or a loved one might be abusing buprenorphine, pay close attention to the following warning signs and symptoms.
Behavioral signs of abuse:
- Acting secretive
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Having mood swings that cannot be explained
- School or work absences
- Sleeping more
- Social withdrawal
Physical signs of abuse:
- Constricted pupils
- Increased blood pressure
- Muscle pain and cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Watery eyes
Psychological signs of abuse:
- Depressed and apathetic mood
- Feelings of sadness
- Poor memory
- Slurred speech
Injecting buprenorphine brings along higher risk of adverse consequences compared to sublingual and transdermal routes of administration. Users who inject buprenorphine often report having:
- Acute loss of limb circulation
- Endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining)
- HIV infection and hepatitis C (through shared needles)
- Soft tissue infections
Buprenorphine abusers also tend to use other drugs that contribute to polydrug use and co-occurring addiction. Still, the risks of buprenorphine abuse are often overlooked, despite the fact that they can negatively impact all aspects of a person’s life, including physical and mental wellbeing, financial stability, and interpersonal relationships with friends and family.
Buprenorphine Overdose: Call 911!
Like most opioids, buprenorphine lowers respiration. In high doses, the drug can effectively stop breathing and lead to loss of consciousness and in more severe cases even death. The chances of buprenorphine overdose increase greatly when the drug is taken along with alcohol, other narcotic painkillers, and other sedative medicines.
If you happen to experience signs of buprenorphine overdose, or suspect someone you know has OD-d CALL 911 ASAP.
Here are the signs of buprenorphine overdose:
- Extreme drowsiness and weakness
- Cold clammy skin
- Weak heart beat and pulse
- Weak and shallow breathing
- Absence of breathing
When you call the ambulance, inform the contact representative that the person has taken buprenorphine and perhaps any other substances with it. Then, provide clear instructions about your location. While waiting for the ambulance, stay on the phone with medical professionals to receive instructions about how to aid the person until they arrive. Do not give anything by mouth to the person, and try to keep the person awake while waiting for medical help.
Treating a Problem
Effective treatment programs that specialize address abuse will work to identify what’s your current situation and what you need in order to become drug-free. A good treatment program will work to resolve your physical dependence to buprenorphine as well as any underlying psychological problems. Treatment experts confirm that the most effective approaches to treating an buprenorphine use disorder involve a mix of:
Pharmacological therapies (medications) = The first step in treating buprenorphine abuse is to address your body’s chemical dependence. If you’ve been abusing it for a period of time, you can expect buprenorphine withdrawal symptoms to occur as traces of the drug start to leave the system. Common symptoms of buprenorphine withdrawal include:
- A runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Goose bumps
- Mild fever
- Muscle aches
This is why it is important to be medically monitored. Doctors can also provide adequate medications to manage and treat withdrawal symptoms as they occur. Doctors may prescribe Clonidine, or suggest over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, Tylenol, Imodium, and Benadryl that treat flu like symptoms, cramps, and insomnia.
Psychotherapy and behavioral therapies = A big part of buprenorphine addiction treatment is involvement in psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. You will undergo individual, group, and/or family counseling during the course of your treatment program. Commonly used therapies include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dual Diagnosis Treatment
- Educational Sessions
- Family and/or Couples Therapy
- Medication Maintenance Therapy
- Motivational Interviewing
All these interventions aim to help you safely remove buprenorphine from your system, uncover and address the reasons why you started to abuse buprenorphine in the first place, and help you become better equipped to abstain from using drugs in the future.
Who Can Help Me?
Wondering “Who can help me for my problem with buprenorphine abuse?” Take hope! There are plenty of professionals and resources that aim to help any person facing a drug abuse problem quit and stay quit. Here are some suggestions:
1. Buprenorphine Abuse Helpline. When you CALL our hotline number listed on this page, you will talk with a caring and non-judgmental professional who listens and can relate to your struggles. Hotline staffers will also ask questions in order to offer strategies and information about buprenorphine abuse treatment services that can best help you.
2. Drug Treatment Centers. These health facilities readily accept patients who are suffering from buprenorphine abuse.
3. Pharmacists. These medical professional can dispense only with valid prescription. Still, you can use pharmacists in your support system. When detoxing from buprenorphine, pharmacists can suggest over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies to help alleviate symptoms as they occur.
4. Poison Control Center. Call (800) 222-1222 to get in touch with a poison expert that can provide medical advice and guidance on what you should do in case of a buprenorphine overdose.
5. Prescribing Physicians. They can give you buprenorphine for therapeutic use, but also assess the severity of your buprenorphine abuse and recommend adequate treatment.
6. Psychiatrists. These mental health doctors are familiar with prescribing buprenorphine for the treatment of opiate addiction. They can also prescribe medications to help with co-occuring mental health issues in the case of dual diagnosis.
7. Licensed Clinical Psychologist. Psychologists are crucial in helping people who misuse buprenorphine to solve their existing psychological, emotional, and spiritual problems that compel them to abuse drugs in the first place.
8. Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Social workers are professionals that can work with people recovering from buprenorphine abuse in community-based settings.
9. Specialist In Addiction – Doctors who are Certified Addiction Specialists (CAS) are experts in the treatment of serious and recurrent addiction to drugs including addiction to buprenorphine.
Got any questions?
We strive to help all readers find a safe and effective way to resolve their substance use. One way we try to help is by answering your questions. So, please feel free to post them in the designated section below. We do our best to provide a personal and prompt response to all legitimate inquiries.