Transdermal Buprenorphine, Opioid Rotation to Sublingual Buprenorphine, and the Avoidance of Precipitated Withdrawal: A Review of the Literature and Demonstration in Three Chronic Pain Patients Treated With Butrans

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Buprenorphine is an opioid, used in the United States and abroad for both analgesia and addiction, with unique opioid receptor binding properties. There are several pharmacological features of buprenorphine that make it an emerging option for the long-term treatment of chronic pain—its respiratory suppression ceiling effect, its efficacy in neuropathic pain and hyperalgesic states, and its decreased suppression of the immune and endocrine systems compared with other long-acting opioids. Previous studies have shown that high-dose sublingual buprenorphine is an effective treatment of chronic pain patients not responding to other opioids. Guidelines for the introduction of sublingual buprenorphine, termed buprenorphine induction, include an opioid-free “withdrawal” period of 12–48 hours to avoid an anticipated and accelerated opioid withdrawal, a syndrome described in this article as precipitated withdrawal. The requirement of a period of opioid abstinence before buprenorphine use may present a significant barrier to its adoption for chronic pain. We present a case series of a novel method of sublingual buprenorphine introduction without an induction period, using the recently Food and Drug Administration-approved low-dose transdermal buprenorphine (Butrans; Purdue Pharma L.P.) as a bridge medication. In these cases, buprenorphine was started in opioid-dependent chronic noncancer pain patients who had taken short-acting opioid medications within hours of the initiation of the rotation. This method avoids the painful abstinence period and did not result in precipitated withdrawal or other significant adverse effects.

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