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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - SAMHSA News - Volume X, No. 4 - Fall 2002

Buprenorphine Approved for Opioid Addiction Treatment

physician speaking to young boyThe medication buprenorphine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on October 9 for the detoxification and maintenance treatment of heroin and other narcotic addiction. The new medication enables physicians, for the first time, to treat opioid addiction in an office-based setting provided they meet criteria mandated by Congress and they obtain a waiver through SAMHSA to dispense and prescribe it.

"Buprenorphine allows patients to be treated for addictions in the same manner as they are treated for other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or hypertension," said SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W.

Buprenorphine's unique effects and pharmacology make it an attractive and clinically useful treatment option. Buprenorphine functions on the same brain receptors as morphine, but does not produce the same euphoria, dependence, or withdrawal syndrome. It is long-lasting, less likely to cause respiratory depression, and well-tolerated by people addicted to heroin or other opioids. Physicians will be required to refer patients to full-spectrum care for their social and psychological needs.

Buprenorphine will not replace methadone therapy, which is currently provided through SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment programs, but the medication gives physicians an additional option to use in treating addiction to opioids, including prescription painkillers. Buprenorphine represents a milestone in the 12-year medication development program of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Physicians who are not addiction-medicine specialists, and who want to offer this new option to their patients, must first complete an 8-hour training session to qualify for a waiver from the Controlled Substances Act 21[USC 823(g)], which restricts the use of methadone and other opiate drugs to federally licensed addiction treatment clinics. The waiver permits primary care physicians to provide office-based treatment. To date, approximately 2,000 physicians have received training provided by medical groups funded by SAMHSA.

In the next few months, SAMHSA will establish a nationwide registry of physicians holding this waiver to assist health care workers, and addicted individuals and their families, identify treatment professionals qualified to treat up to 30 patients for detoxification (weaning off opioids) or maintenance (staying off opioids).

To encourage physicians to participate in buprenorphine training sessions and to inform the public about this new treatment option, SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment will launch an information campaign in the near future.

SAMHSA has set up an information Web site and toll-free number for physicians to call for information. Physicians can get more information by visiting or by calling the SAMHSA Buprenorphine Information Center at 1 (866) BUP-CSAT (287-2728) from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., eastern time. End of Article

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