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What is buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine acts like a partial opioid in the brain, which is different from methadone, oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl. Buprenorphine sits on the opioid receptors, thereby reducing cravings and preventing withdrawal symptoms. Because buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, it has a ceiling effect—this means that after a certain dose, there is no additional opioid effect, which ultimately decreases the risk for overdose. Buprenorphine treatment is often combined with naloxone, which results in the commonly known medication, Suboxone. Naloxone (commonly known as Narcan) is an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks opioids in the brain. Thus, the combination of buprenorphine with naloxone further discourages misuse of the medication.

Rebekah L. Rollston, MD, MPH

Dr. Rollston is a Family Medicine Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance, Affiliate Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Primary Care Blog, and Founder of Doctors For A Healthy US, LLC. She earned her Medical Degree from East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine and her Master of Public Health from The George Washington University. Her professional interests focus on social influencers of health & health disparities, addiction medicine, sexual & reproductive health, homelessness & supportive housing, and rural health.

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