The latest on a potentially safer way to deliver opioids for pain relief

As the dangers of opioids become more apparent, medical researchers are finding new ways to deal with chronic pain, and new ways to deliver opioids in a safer way.

Buprenorphine is a synthetic opioid that is the subject of much study. How is buprenorphine different from other opioids? Naturally occurring opiates come from the poppy. They include morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Buprenorphine is a synthetic thebaine derivative.

Buprenorphine is a drug that is FDA approved. It is in an oral medication form or can be administered by injection. This drug Buprenorphine is used as a treatment for pain, and for treatment of those with an opioid dependence. Buprenorphine helps reduce withdrawal symptoms, and helps reduce cravings. The problem limiting effectiveness of buprenorphine for those with an opioid addiction is adherence. Many patients using buprenorphine (drugs called Suboxone® or Subutex) to control their opioid dependence miss doses and then relapse.

This has led researchers to develop a delivery method of buprenorphine that circumvents the need for daily pill taking or acute injections. The solution: buprenorphine depot injections.

More formally called “Long Acting Subcutaneous Injectable Depot,” this newly developed method which is under clinical study (Investigational/not yet approved by the US FDA) allows a patient to receive a single injection that delivers a steady dose of buprenorphine for a week or month, the time depending on the dose size.

This new medical advancement has application beyond countering the devastating plague of opioid dependence. A “long acting” alternative to opioid pills or patches may also be appealing to many suffering from chronic pain. There is always a risk of missing a dose, taking to much medication, etc., and the “depot” method counters all of these risks. Furthermore, an injection of this nature keep patients from abusing opioids.

It may have application to those with moderate to severe chronic low back pain, and for those dealing with pain from cancer. It may also be something that patients transition to if they are currently taking other forms of opioids.

Phase 3 clinical trials are currently underway to assess the safety and efficacy of buprenorphine depot injections. The FDA recently gave fast track designation to long acting buprenorphine injections to treat opioid addiction.