Buprenorphine is a synthetic opiate commonly prescribed to treat opiate dependence. Although used for a similar purpose to methadone, there are also some key differences.


Buprenorphine is a commonly prescribed pharmacotherapy treatment for opiate dependence. It can be prescribed in an ongoing way to help someone reduce the harms of heroin use and to reduce the need to use heroin. It is also often prescribed for a short timeframe to help people withdraw from heroin.

When manufactured, buprenorphine is combined with naloxone to deter diversion.


Bup, B, Suboxone, Subutex, Pharmacotherapy, OSTP, Opiate Substitution Therapy Program, ORT, Opiate Replacement Program, on The Program, Norspan


31 per cent of people on opiate replacement treatment are prescribed buprenorphine.


In Australia Buprenorphine generally comes in a yellow coloured film. Previously it was available in a tablet form which was often crushed and dissolved under the tongue, however this has been phased out. 


Films are dissolved under the tongue. Chewing or swallowing the film makes it less effective.


Similar effects to other opiates such as feelings of warmth, wellbeing, relaxation and sleepiness as well as similar side effects including nausea and sweating.

Although Buprenorphine is an opioid, it has a slightly different effect on the opioid receptors in the brain compared to heroin and methadone. This means the maximum effect is less than these other drugs and the effects seem to plateau even at higher doses. It also means that the use of buprenorphine by an opiate dependent individual can cause withdrawal symptoms if they still have other opiates in their system, for more information on Buprenorphine click here


Overdose from Buprenorphine is less likely than in heroin and methadone but it is still a risk, especially with people who do not normally use opiates or when mixed with other depressant drugs such as alcohol. There are similar symptoms to heroin overdose, especially respiratory depression.


Buprenorphine is commonly mixed with Cannabis and Alcohol.

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Encourage a young person to

  • Avoid using Heroin as it can create immediate withdrawal
  • Follow directions from prescribing doctor-especially when commencing treatment.
  • Avoid injection, especially when diverted from oral administration
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs, especially alcohol and other opiates
  • Store safely, especially out of reach of children
  • Avoid use of Suboxone (with naloxone) during pregnancy

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Try Harm Reduction Victoria’s comprehensive info.