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Butrans (Buprenorphine) Patch Treatment for Heroin and Opioid Addiction

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

January 23, 2019

Buprenorphine is a partial opiate agonist that can make opioid withdrawal easier to handle. A common form of buprenorphine is the Butrans Patch. Although the Butrans Patch can help during withdrawals and detoxification, it isn’t intended for long-term use. Due to its slight euphoric effects, buprenorphine can be abused and has the potential for side effects as well as addiction.

Understanding Heroin And Opioid Addiction

Drugs like heroin, Fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone are all opioids and some of the most addictive drugs on the planet. Opioids can be injected into the veins, snorted up the nose, taken as a pill or suppository, or smoked. Once you’re regularly using opioids, you build up a tolerance and then you need more of the drug to get the same effect as before.

Tolerance eventually leads to the most severe stage of a substance use disorder, addiction. An addiction “develops when continued use of the drug causes issues, such as health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home”. Even though an opioid addiction is a progressive disease and gets worse as a use of the drug continues, there are ways to make withdrawals more bearable and achieve sobriety.

What Does The Butrans Patch Do To Help An Addiction?

As mentioned before, buprenorphine can help during the withdrawal stage of recovery which usually peaks after a day or two of abstinence and in correlation to detoxification. Buprenorphine can be taken as a sublingual tablet (under the tongue) or as a patch known as the Butrans Patch. The patch “delivers buprenorphine across the skin for 7 days can alleviate newly abstinent heroin abusers’ opioid withdrawal symptoms, report Dr. George Bigelow and colleagues at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The patch represents a new way to deliver buprenorphine during opioid detoxification” (NIDA).

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Opioid Detoxification And Withdrawal Symptoms

Detoxification of any drug is the body’s physical response to unnatural chemicals. It is the act of pushing drugs out, and by definition “is a set of interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and withdrawal” (U.S. National Library of Medicine). Butrans Patches and other related forms of buprenorphine (like Suboxone) are only intended to help with a person deal with opioid withdrawals and are not considered a cure for addiction. Some of the common opioid withdrawals symptoms are:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle Aches
  • Increased Tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Goose Bumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

(U.S. National Library of Medicine)

Butrans Patch Vs. Suboxone—Which Is Better?

Both the Butrans Patch and Suboxone work the same way by slightly duplicating the effects of opioids. Each drug works as an opiate agonist and has less potential for abuse than opioids. Suboxone is taken as needed as a dissolvable tablet, and Butrans is taken as a transdermal patch and typically left on for 7 days at a time. As they were previously described, withdrawals can be painful, but they can also cause a person to start using opioids again. Some people prefer the patch and some people prefer the tablet. With opioid addictions, there isn’t just one way to correctly treat it, because everyone’s different—so where Suboxone is better for one, Butrans might be better for another.

Can The Butrans Patch Be Abused?

Yes. Since the use of a drug, any other way than their intended purpose is considered abuse, so Butrans Patches can be abused as well. Using someone else’s patch is strongly advised against, as is using the patch without consulting a medical professional. Butrans Patches cause a slight euphoria, so there is potential for dependence as well.

From the drug’s warning label and the U.S National Library of Medicine, “Buprenorphine patches can be habit-forming. Do not apply more patches, apply the patches more often, or use the patches in a different way than prescribed by your doctor. Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family drinks or has ever drunk large amounts of alcohol; uses or has overused prescription medications; uses or has ever used street drugs; or has or has ever had depression or another mental illness. There is a greater risk that you will overuse buprenorphine patches if you have or have ever had any of these conditions.”

Side Effects Of Butrans Patch

Buprenorphine can have side effects of its own. Some side effects of the Butrans Patch can be serious and necessary precautions need to be taken—the side effects can include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Skin irritation, itching, swelling, or redness in the area of patch use
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in heartbeat
  • Agitation, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that do not exist)
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Shivering
  • Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
  • Loss of coordination
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness, or dizziness
  • Inability to get or keep an erection
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling of your face, tongue or throat
  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Itching

(U.S. National Library of Medicine)

More About Medication-Assisted Therapy

Medication-Assisted Therapies like buprenorphine treatment are meant to be paired with different modalities and meant to help during detoxification and withdrawals, but shouldn’t go much further than that. This is even suggested by the definition, “medication-assisted treatment, including opioid treatment programs, combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

Addiction Treatment Modalities

Addiction can be hard to beat with willpower and good intentions; therefore behavioral therapies and support groups are often the best defense against the addicted mind. Some of the therapies for opioid addiction are:

  • Evaluation
  • Medical Detoxification
  • Mindfulness and Stress Management
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Contingency Management
  • Recreational, Art and Adventure Therapy
  • Family and Peer Support
  • 12-Step Model
  • Relapse Prevention
  • Aftercare Support

How To Find Treatment For Heroin And Opioid Addiction

If you’re considering treatment for opioid addiction, then you’re on the right track. Not everyone will need to use buprenorphine to help during opioid withdrawals, but it is a good option for many. Contact today to speak to an addiction specialist about rehab and find out if buprenorphine treatment is right for you.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Patch Delivers Buprenorphine for Heroin Detox

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Medication-Assisted Therapy

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Buprenorphine Transdermal Patch

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