The profile of opioid dependence in the United States is changing. Abuse of prescription opioids is more common than that of illicit opioids: Recent data indicate that approximately 1.6 million persons abuse or are dependent on prescription opioids, whereas 323,000 abuse or are dependent on heroin.
Despite this prevalence, nearly 80 percent of opioid-dependent persons remain untreated. One option for expanding treatment is the use of buprenorphine and the buprenorphine-naloxone combination. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that can be prescribed by trained physicians and dispensed at pharmacies.
This article addresses the clinical presentation of a patient with opioid dependence and describes the relatively new practice of office-based treatment with buprenorphine-naloxone. The different components of treatment; the role of the physician who provides this treatment; and the logistics of treating this growing, multifaceted patient population also are examined.