Safety of buprenorphine transdermal system in the management of pain in older adults

Joseph V. Pergolizzi, Robert B. Raffa, Zachary Marcum, Salvatore Colucci, Steven R. Ripa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objectives: To evaluate whether buprenorphine transdermal system (BTDS; Butrans®) is an option for the treatment of chronic pain in older adults. Methods: This retrospective analysis of 16 placebo- and active-controlled and uncontrolled studies (N = 6566) evaluated the safety and tolerability profile in patients exposed to BTDS and compared the safety profiles associated with BTDS treatment in older patients ≥ 65 years of age (65 to 98 years) and younger patients < 65 years of age (18 to 64 years). Safety analyses included adverse events (AEs), laboratory values, and electrocardiograms. Results: Overall, the incidence of AEs was similar in the ≥ 65 year patient cohort (N = 1715) and the < 65 year patient cohort (N = 4843) (63.8% and 61.0%, respectively). The older patient cohort experienced more constipation, peripheral edema, and urinary tract infection, but fewer application-site AEs (eg, erythema, irritation, pruritus, rash) and headaches. A statistically significant treatment-by-age interaction was observed for fall, arthralgia, and localized and non-application site-related rash, suggesting a differential increase in the risk of these events among older patients treated with BTDS that cannot be explained by age or treatment alone. A similar trend was observed for accidents and injuries, and for falls, in patients treated with both BTDS and active controls (oxycodone/acetaminophen [OXY/APAP] and hydrocodone/acetaminophen [HCD/APAP]), suggesting an opioid class effect. However, due to small sample sizes of the active control groups, a statistical test of treatment-by-age interaction could not be conducted for the active controls. The incidences of serious AEs and of clinically significant increases in liver enzymes, such as AST, ALT and bilirubin were small, regardless of age. Conclusion: BTDS appears to be a viable option for the management of pain in older adults, but the benefits need to be tempered by potential risks among older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-101
Number of pages10
JournalPostgraduate Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017
Externally publishedYes



  • 7-day transdermal formulation
  • BTDS
  • Buprenorphine
  • controlled and uncontrolled trials
  • elderly
  • geriatric pain medicine
  • opioid
  • pain management in older adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

Pergolizzi, J. V., Raffa, R. B., Marcum, Z., Colucci, S., & Ripa, S. R. (2017). Safety of buprenorphine transdermal system in the management of pain in older adults. Postgraduate Medicine, 129(1), 92-101.