In the fight against the opioid epidemic, experts have suggested a bit of a kitchen-sink approach. Someone seeking treatment might go through detox, enter an inpatient rehabilitation facility, get therapy and counseling, make use of medication-assisted treatment, go to an outpatient program, and attend support groups. It’s not a one size fits all solution, but one treatment that is becoming increasingly popular is buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid addiction. It’s been proven an effective tool in recovery, but unfortunately there may be a dangerous risk involved that has nothing to do with the person taking it.

Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, is an opioid medication itself, but it’s what is called a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it activates the opioid receptors in the brain, but to a much lesser extent than full agonists like heroin. It can lessen symptoms of opioid withdrawal, decrease cravings, and block the effects of other opioids if an individual tries to take them at the same time.

That’s all good news for someone fighting opioid addiction, but here’s where the danger comes in. Buprenorphine isn’t just something you’re given at a treatment facility; with a prescription, you can take it at home. This means more and more households with opioid medication sitting around, and more children who are potentially exposed to them.  Between 2007 and 2016, more than 11,000 calls were made to poison control centers in the United States regarding buprenorphine exposure in children. 86 percent of those were children under the age of six. Since 2007, the number of children who have been exposed to the drug has doubled.

Buprenorphine comes as both a tablet and a film, and because both methods are meant to be held in the mouth until dissolved, they’re flavored. Children might mistake them for candy, whereas with unpleasant tasting medicine they’d be more likely to spit it out. Even a single lick can lead to respiratory depression and even death in a child.


Of course, practically anything can pose a risk to curious children. Cleaning products, laundry detergent, even hairspray can prove dangerous when ingested. The problem with buprenorphine, experts say, is that because it’s viewed as a treatment and a safe alternative to opioids, parents are lulled into a false sense of security.  If you had a bottle of Vicodin, for example, you’d probably keep it in a high and/or locked cabinet so that your child couldn’t reach it. Buprenorphine, on the other hand, gets treated by some people as no more dangerous than a bottle of ibuprofen (although over the counter medications can also be deadly to children, and you should keep them out of reach as well).

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.