WebMD Logo Icon
WebMD Connect to Care helps you find services to manage your health. When you purchase any of these services, WebMD may receive a fee. WebMD does not endorse any product, service or treatment referred to on this page. X

Monthly Buprenorphine for Opioid Addiction: How Does It Work?

By Michael Howard
Buprenorphine is a prescription drug used to treat opioid use disorder. Normally taken daily, it is also available as a monthly extended-release injection.

Between 8 and 12% of people who use opioids for pain relief develop an opioid addiction, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This condition is known as opioid use disorder (OUD). Buprenorphine is one of several drugs that doctors can prescribe to treat OUD. We asked an expert to help explain what buprenorphine is and how monthly buprenorphine injections work.

Buprenorphine and Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Buprenorphine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat OUD. It is an opioid partial agonist, which means it doesn’t fully activate the opioid receptors in your body. As a result, buprenorphine is less potent than full agonists such as morphine and heroin.

“Because buprenorphine is an opiate partial agonist, it can be very useful to treat addiction to opioid drugs,” Prudence Leung, PharmD, Clinical Pharmacist at FDB (First Databank) Consumer Drug Information Group, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “It has, in recent years, become more often used as part of opioid use disorder treatment programs, along with compliance monitoring, counseling, behavioral contracts, and psychosocial support.”

When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine alleviates opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Various dose forms are available that may be advantageous for monitoring and adherencesuch as patches, implants, and forms made to dissolve in the mouth,” Leung says. “Some forms are also combined with an opioid antagonist such as naloxone to discourage misuse if taken by an unprescribed route of administration, thereby providing improved safety of the drug.”

Monthly Extended-Release Buprenorphine

The FDA approved extended-release buprenorphine in 2017. Unlike standard buprenorphine, which you have to take every day, you only take extended release buprenorphine once a month.

“Monthly extended release buprenorphine is a dosage form that is injected under the skin of the abdomen by a healthcare provider,” Leung explains. “This form of buprenorphine changes from a liquid to a solid form once it is in the body and slowly releases over time.”

A 2019 study published in The Lancet found that monthly extended release buprenorphine relieved opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, leading to abstinence for “substantial proportions of participants,” according to the NIH.

Because it is injected under the skin, extended release buprenorphine should only be administered under close medical supervision.

“Very careful administration is required since it must not be injected into a vein or muscle,” Leung cautions. “People receiving this form must first be treated with another buprenorphine-containing product and must be taking a stable dose amount. The injection is then given once a month for maintenance treatment of opioid use disorder. People being treated with this drug should also have immediate access to naloxone for emergency treatment of opioid overdose.”

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.