Buprenorphine for drug dependence


Generic Name Brand Name
buprenorphine Subutex
buprenorphine and naloxone Suboxone

You take buprenorphine by placing pills under your tongue.

How It Works

Buprenorphine is an opioid medicine similar to morphine, codeine, and heroin. It targets the same places in the brain that opioids do. It relieves drug cravings without giving you the same high as other opioid drugs.

Buprenorphine can cause side effects similar to other opioids and also can cause physical dependence.

Why It Is Used

Buprenorphine can help treat addiction to opioid drugs, including heroin and narcotic painkillers. It prevents or reduces withdrawal symptoms caused by quitting these drugs.

How Well It Works

Research has shown that buprenorphine is effective for treating opioid addiction.1

Side Effects

Buprenorphine or buprenorphine and naloxone may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of the following side effects are severe or do not go away:

  • Belly pain
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

Other side effects are less common. Call your doctor if you have any of the following side effects:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Hives, itching, or a skin rash
  • Lack of energy or extreme tiredness
  • Pain in the upper right part of your belly
  • Slowed breathing
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Upset stomach or loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Do not take mood-altering drugs, narcotic painkillers, sedatives, sleeping pills, or tranquilizers while taking buprenorphine.

In some cases, buprenorphine may be used as an alternative to methadone, which also is given to treat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine may have less severe side effects than methadone. Talk to your doctor about what might work best for you.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Buprenorphine: An alternative to methadone (2003). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 45(W1150A): 13–15.

Last Updated: February 8, 2010

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