Buprenorphine tapering schedule and illicit opioid use


Maureen Hillhouse, University of California, 11075 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90025, USA. E-mail: hillhous@ucla.edu


Aims  To compare the effects of a short or long taper schedule after buprenorphine stabilization on participant outcomes as measured by opioid-free urine tests at the end of each taper period.

Design  This multi-site study sponsored by Clinical Trials Network (CTN, a branch of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse) was conducted from 2003 to 2005 to compare two taper conditions (7 days and 28 days). Data were collected at weekly clinic visits to the end of the taper periods, and at 1-month and 3-month post-taper follow-up visits.

Setting  Eleven out-patient treatment programs in 10 US cities.

Intervention  Non-blinded dosing with Suboxone® during the 1-month stabilization phase included 3 weeks of flexible dosing as determined appropriate by the study physicians. A fixed dose was required for the final week before beginning the taper phase.

Measurements  The percentage of participants in each taper group providing urine samples free of illicit opioids at the end of the taper and at follow-up.

Findings  At the end of the taper, 44% of the 7-day taper group (n = 255) provided opioid-free urine specimens compared to 30% of the 28-day taper group (n = 261; P = 0.0007). There were no differences at the 1-month and 3-month follow-ups (7-day = 18% and 12%; 28-day = 18% and 13%, 1 month and 3 months, respectively).

Conclusion  For individuals terminating buprenorphine pharmacotherapy for opioid dependence, there appears to be no advantage in prolonging the duration of taper.