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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Dec 1;193:117-123. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.09.007. Epub 2018 Oct 12.

Understanding the use of diverted buprenorphine.

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Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, United States.
Indivior, Inc., Richmond, VA, United States; Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Mental Health, Baltimore, MD, United States. Electronic address:



Buprenorphine is approved in many countries for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD), but problems with diversion and abuse exist. There is a need to understand how and why patients use diverted buprenorphine, and whether barriers to access contribute to illicit use.


Adults >18 years with DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorder and primarily using an opioid completed the online Survey of Key Informants' Patients (SKIP) between August and September 2016. The survey included closed- and open-ended questions regarding reasons for buprenorphine use with and without a prescription, sources of buprenorphine, route of administration, and barriers to treatment.


Of 303 respondents, 175 (58%) reported a history of diverted buprenorphine use, 65 (37%) of whom reported never receiving a prescription. The most common reasons for illicit buprenorphine use were consistent with therapeutic use: to prevent withdrawal (79%), maintain abstinence (67%), or self-wean off drugs (53%). Approximately one-half (52%) reported using buprenorphine to get high or alter mood, but few (4%) indicated that it was their drug of choice. Among respondents who had used diverted buprenorphine, 33% reported that they had issues finding a doctor or obtaining buprenorphine on their own. Most (81%) of these participants indicated they would prefer using prescribed buprenorphine, if available.


Although 58% of survey respondents reported a history of using diverted buprenorphine, the most frequently cited reasons for non-prescription use were consistent with therapeutic use. Diversion was partially driven by barriers to access, and an unmet need for OUD treatment persists.


Barriers to treatment; Buprenorphine; Diversion; Opioid use disorder

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