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Is There a Suboxone Patch: What Is It Used For?

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Sep 18, 2023

Suboxone contains two ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine can come in many forms, including strips, tablets, injections, implants and patches. 

Companies have developed a buprenorphine patch sold under the brand name Butrans. This medication is designed to treat chronic pain, but not addiction.

If oral medications aren’t right for your recovery plan, you have choices. You can use an injectable form of Suboxone, but most people find that tablets or films work better. 

What Is Butrans? 

An extended-release buprenorphine patch sold under the brand name Butrans was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010 for chronic pain.[1]

The Butrans patch is manufactured by Purdue Pharmaceuticals. They developed this treatment for people who need pain management 24/7 and for whom other opioid treatment options are inadequate.[2]

Butrans is a Schedule III medication, meaning there is some addictive potential for opioid-naïve people. It is less potent than other opioid medications like oxycodone or hydrocodone, which are Schedule II.

How Is It Used?

Butrans patches are changed once per week, administering a consistent buprenorphine dose over seven days.[3]

People can apply patches to their arms, chest, or upper back. Every time they switch patches, they must pick a new site. The patches work best when they’re applied to hairless skin. 

Not Yet Approved as an Addiction Treatment 

Buprenorphine patches have not yet been approved for Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) programs by the FDA. However, some providers may use them off-label for OUD treatment for certain patients.

Medical research into buprenorphine patch as MAT is just beginning. Before the FDA approval of Butrans, a study on buprenorphine transdermal patches in 2007 reported that buprenorphine patches appeared to be well tolerated among those overcoming OUD. [4]

The study examined the reactions of nine volunteers diagnosed as opioid dependent who entered a 10-day opioid withdrawal program. They received patches that delivered 1.9 mg of buprenorphine daily and changed their patches every three days. About half the participants reported reduced withdrawal symptoms when they used the patches.

A more recent narrative review of buprenorphine patch studies, published in 2019, found that there is potential to use transdermal patches in opioid-dependent individuals to help them overcome SUD.[5]

Side Effects From Using a Buprenorphine Patch 

Side effects of buprenorphine patches like Butrans are similar to the side effects of Suboxone and include the following:

  • Trouble falling and staying asleep
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Skin irritation, itching, and swelling in the area where the patch is placed
  • Other itching or hives as an allergic reaction
  • Chest pain
  • Symptoms of overdose, including trouble breathing and changes in heartbeat

It is important to tell your doctor if you experience side effects.

MAT for Addiction Care 

If you are overcoming an OUD, seek treatment with medical professionals who provide MAT. 

Suboxone is the current standard for MAT. This prescription medication is placed inside the mouth, dissolving quickly into the bloodstream. It is taken once per day. It can be prescribed and supervised by a general physician, making it an accessible approach to addiction treatment.

The medication is relatively easy to take, but some people struggle to remember to take it once per day or perhaps dislike the taste. Extended-release formulas of buprenorphine, like subdermal implants or Sublocade, could work better for those who prefer not to take daily medication.

Most insurance plans cover addiction treatment services, so the cost of Suboxone may be covered by your health insurance. Talk to your provider about the specifics of your coverage.

Sources

  1. Butrans Drug Approval Package. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/2010/021306_butrans_toc.cfm. September 2011. Accessed January 2023. 
  2. Butrans Prescribing Information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/021306s015s019lbl.pdf. June 2014. Accessed January 2023. 
  3. Buprenorphine Transdermal Patch. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a613042.html#how. December 2022. Accessed January 2023. 
  4. Evaluation of a Transdermal Buprenorphine Formulation in Opioid Detoxification. Addiction. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17854341/. October 2007. Accessed January 2023. 
  5. Transdermal Buprenorphine Patch: Potential for Role in Management of Opioid Dependence. Asian Journal of Psychiatry. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1876201818310761?via%3Dihub. February 2019. Accessed January 2023.

By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

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