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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2012 Feb;1248:124-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06352.x. Epub 2012 Jan 18.

The history of the development of buprenorphine as an addiction therapeutic.

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  • 1Department of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, USA.


This paper traces the early 21st century success of the agonist-antagonist buprenorphine and the combination drug buprenorphine with naloxone within the broader quest to develop addiction therapeutics that began in the 1920s as the search for a nonaddictive analgesic. Drawing on archival research, document analysis, and interviews with contemporary actors, this paper situates the social organization of laboratory-based and clinical research within the domestic and international confluence of several issues, including research ethics, drug regulation, public attitudes, tensions around definitions of drug addiction, and the evolving roles of the pharmaceutical industry. The fervor that drove the champions of buprenorphine must be understood in relation to (1) the material work of research and pharmaceutical manufacturing; (2) the symbolic role of buprenorphine as a solution to numerous problems with addiction treatment evident by the mid-1970s; the destigmatization and individualization of addicts as patients; and (3) the complex configurations of public and private partnerships.

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