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High-dose buprenorphine: perioperative precautions and management strategies

Department of Intensive Care Medicine, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Herston, Brisbane, Queensland

Summary

Buprenorphine has been in clinical use in anaesthesia for several decades. Recently, the high-dose sublingual formulation (Subutex®, Reckitt Benckiser, Slough, U.K.) has been increasingly used as maintenance therapy in opioid dependence, as an alternative to methadone and other pharmacological therapies. Buprenorphine has unique pharmacological properties making it well suited for use as a maintenance therapy in opioid dependence. However, these same properties may cause difficulty in the perioperative management of pain. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, attenuating the effects of supplemental illicit or therapeutic opioid agonists. As a result of its high receptor affinity, supplemental opioids do not readily displace buprenorphine from the opioid receptor in standard doses. High-dose buprenorphine has an extended duration of action that prolongs both of these effects.


The perioperative management of patients stabilized on high-dose buprenorphine and undergoing surgery requires consideration of the likely analgesic requirements. Where possible the buprenorphine should be continued. Pain management should focus on maximizing non-opioid analgesia, local anaesthesia and non-pharmacological techniques. Where pain may not be adequately relieved by these methods, the addition of a full opioid agonist such as fentanyl or morphine at appropriate doses should be considered, accompanied by close monitoring in a high dependency unit. In situations where this regimen is unlikely to be effective, preoperative conversion to morphine or methadone may be an option. Where available, liaison with a hospital-based alcohol and drug service should always be considered.

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