Background Sublingual buprenorphine is an effective maintenance treatment for opioid dependence, yet intravenous buprenorphine misuse occurs. A buprenorphine/naloxone formulation was developed to mitigate this misuse risk. This randomized, double-blind, cross-over study was conducted to assess the intravenous abuse potential of buprenorphine/naloxone compared with buprenorphine in buprenorphine-maintained injection drug users (IDUs).
Methods Intravenous heroin users (n = 12) lived in the hospital for 8–9 weeks and were maintained on each of three different sublingual buprenorphine doses (2 mg, 8 mg, 24 mg). Under each maintenance dose, participants completed laboratory sessions during which the reinforcing and subjective effects of intravenous placebo, naloxone, heroin and low and high doses of buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone were examined. Every participant received each test dose under the three buprenorphine maintenance dose conditions.
Results Intravenous buprenorphine/naloxone was self-administered less frequently than buprenorphine or heroin (P < 0.0005). Participants were most likely to self-administer drug intravenously when maintained on the lowest sublingual buprenorphine dose. Subjective ratings of ‘drug liking’ and ‘desire to take the drug again’ were lower for buprenorphine/naloxone than for buprenorphine or heroin (P = 0.0001). Participants reported that they would pay significantly less money for buprenorphine/naloxone than for buprenorphine or heroin (P < 0.05). Seven adverse events were reported; most were mild and transient.
Conclusions These data suggest that although the buprenorphine/naloxone combination has intravenous abuse potential, that potential is lower than it is for buprenorphine alone, particularly when participants received higher maintenance doses and lower buprenorphine/naloxone challenge doses. Buprenorphine/naloxone may be a reasonable option for managing the risk for buprenorphine misuse during opioid dependence treatment.