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Pediatrics. 2012 Dec;130(6):e1700-3. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-1342. Epub 2012 Nov 5.

Buprenorphine may not be as safe as you think: a pediatric fatality from unintentional exposure.

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  • 1New York University Langone Medical Center/Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City Poison Control Center, New York, NY 10016, USA.


Buprenorphine is a partial μ-opioid receptor agonist that is approved for the treatment of opioid dependency. It is generally believed to be safer than methadone because of its ceiling effect on respiratory depression. As more adults in US households use buprenorphine, an increasing number of children are being exposed. We report a fatal exposure to buprenorphine in a small child that occurred after ingestion of a caretaker's buprenorphine/naloxone. Postmortem toxicology analysis showed free serum concentrations of 52 ng/mL and 39 ng/mL for buprenorphine and norbuprenorphine, respectively. No other drugs were detected. Autopsy did not find signs of injury or trauma. The theoretical safety provided by the ceiling effect in respiratory depression from buprenorphine may not apply to children, and buprenorphine may cause dose-dependent respiratory depression.

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