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Emergency Departments Report Jump in Visits Linked to Buprenorphine

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Emergency departments reported a significant rise in the number of visits related to the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine between 2005 and 2010, according to a new government report.

The number of buprenorphine-related visits rose from 3,161 in 2005, to 30,135 in 2010, according to Medical News Today. The figures come from a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Buprenorphine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for opioid addiction in 2002. It prevents opioid misuse without any withdrawal effects. Buprenorphine use has greatly increased in the past few years. In 2005, 5,656 physicians prescribed the drug to 100,000 patients. By 2010, more than 18,500 doctors prescribed the medication to over 800,000 patients.

According to a SAMHSA news release, the overdose risk and abuse potential of buprenorphine is thought to be lower than other treatments for opioid addiction, such as methadone. However, buprenorphine can cause serious harmful effects, particularly if it is taken improperly, or for non-medical uses.

Half of buprenorphine-related emergency department visits in 2010 involved the non-medical use of the drug. Of these visits, 59 percent also involved the use of other drugs such as benzodiazepines, pain relievers and illicit drugs.

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