Continuous Perioperative Sublingual Buprenorphine

Marcelina Jasmine Silva, Andrea Rubinstein
Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy 2016, 30 (4): 289-293
Buprenorphine, a semisynthetic thebaine derivative, is a unique opioid, as it has activity at multiple receptors, including mu (partial agonist), kappa (antagonist), OLR-1 (agonist), and delta (antagonist). Because buprenorphine's pharmacology is relatively complex, misconceptions about its actions are common. Most other opioids act solely or predominately as full mu receptor agonists. Common practice at many institutions calls for the cessation of regular buprenorphine use 48-72 hours prior to surgery. This practice is based on three foundational theories that have come from scant data about the properties of buprenorphine: (1) that buprenorphine is only a partial mu agonist and therefore is not a potent analgesic; (2) because buprenorphine has a ceiling effect on respiratory depression, it also has a ceiling effect on analgesia; and (3) that buprenorphine acts as a "blockade" to the analgesic effects of other opiates when coadministered due to its strong binding affinity. However, several recent studies have called this practice into question. At our institution, we continue buprenorphine perioperatively, whenever possible, in order to provide superior pain control, discourage potentially problematic use and the more dangerous side effects of full mu agonist opiates, and avoid putting recovery at risk for those with opiate dependency issues. We present a unique case comparing two different outcomes for the same surgical course performed at two different times on the same chronic pain patient. These differences may be attributable to the variable of buprenorphine being present for one perioperative course and not the other. Pain control was easier to achieve, and functional recovery was greater when buprenorphine was maintained throughout the perioperative period when compared with using a full mu agonist opioid for chronic pain preoperatively. This is an outcome that much of the literature heretofore suggests would be unlikely. We review some aspects of buprenorphine's unique pharmacology that may explain why remaining on buprenorphine perioperatively may be preferable, which contradicts many practice guidelines.

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