Rationale: Managed withdrawal (i.e., detoxification) from opioid dependence is a widespread clinical procedure that is a necessary step for those pursuing abstinence. Buprenorphine is one effective detoxification treatment, however, consensus regarding effective detoxification procedures is lacking. Objectives: This study evaluated the efficacy of a buprenorphine transdermal formulation (i.e., patch) in suppressing opioid withdrawal, its safety and tolerability, and its biodelivery when applied for 7 days. Methods: Physically dependent opioid (heroin) users (n = 12) completed a 10-day opioid detoxification in a residential research unit. Each received a single patch application that remained in place for 7 days. Blood samples were drawn prior to patch application and once daily thereafter. Assessments, four times daily, included: the amount of rescue medications ordered to treat withdrawal discomfort; self-report and observer ratings of opioid withdrawal and agonist effects; and vital sign measures. Results: Overall, the patch appeared safe and well-tolerated. Buprenorphine plasma levels peaked 48 h after patch application at 0.59 ng/ml. Indices of withdrawal (self-reports, observer ratings, rescue medication) were significantly reduced within 24 h of patch application, continued to decline thereafter, and did not reappear following patch removal. Conclusions: This study confirms that transdermal buprenorphine is safe and clinically effective, and suggests that a 7-day application may provide an effective and comfortable means of detoxification. This patch formulation would appear to be a useful opioid detoxification treatment by reducing compliance concerns, and administering buprenorphine in a formulation less likely to be diverted to illicit use.
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