Savvy Psychopharmacology

Transitioning patients with opioid use disorder from methadone to buprenorphine

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The goal is to taper the opioid agonist therapy while titrating buprenorphine. This taper method is not described in current treatment guidelines, and as a result, there are differences in doses used in each taper because the amount of opioid agonist and type of opioid agonist therapy can vary. In most cases, buprenorphine is initiated at 0.25 mg/d to 0.5 mg/d and increased by 0.25 mg/d to 1 mg/d as tolerated.4,5 The dose of the full opioid agonist is slowly decreased as the buprenorphine dose increases. The Bernese method does not require frequent dosing, so it is a favorable option for outpatient therapy.4 One limitation to this method is that it is necessary to divide tablets into small doses.4 Additionally, adherence issues may disrupt the tapering method; therefore, some patients may not be appropriate candidates.4

Transdermal patch method. This method aims to provide a consistent amount of buprenorphine—similar to dividing tablets into smaller doses as seen in the Bernese method—but with the goal of avoiding inconsistencies in dosing. Hess et al7 examined 22 patients with OUD who were maintained on methadone 60 mg/d to 100 mg/d. In the buprenorphine transdermal patch method, a 35 mcg/h buprenorphine patch was applied 12 hours after the patient’s final methadone dose.1,7 This was intended to provide continuous delivery over 96 hours.1 Additionally, small, incremental doses of sublingual buprenorphine (SL-BUP) were administered throughout the course of 5 days.1 A potential strength of this method is that like the Bernese method, it may be completed in outpatient therapy.4 Potential limitations include time to initiation, off-label use, and related costs.

Rapid microdosing induction method. Contrary to typical microdosing, rapid microdosing induction requires buprenorphine to be administered every 3 to 4 hours.4 As with most buprenorphine microinduction protocols, this does not require a period of withdrawal prior to initiation and may be performed because of the 1-hour time to peak effect of buprenorphine.4 Due to the frequent dosing schedule, it is recommended to use this method in an inpatient setting.4 With rapid microdosing, an individual may receive SL-BUP 0.5 mg every 3 hours on Day 1, then 1 mg SL-BUP every 3 hours on Day 2. On Day 3, the individual may receive 12 mg SL-BUP with 2 mg as needed. A limitation of this method is that it must be performed in an inpatient setting.4


To ensure patient-inclusive care, clinicians should conduct a risk-benefit discussion with the patient regarding microdosing buprenorphine. Because Mr. M would like to be managed as an outpatient, rapid microdosing is not an option. Mr. M works with his care team to design a microdosing approach with the Bernese method. They initiate buprenorphine 0.5 mg/d and increase the dose by 0.5 mg to 1 mg from Day 2 to Day 8. The variance in buprenorphine titration occurs due to Mr. M’s tolerance and symptoms of withdrawal. The team decreases the methadone dose by 5 mg to 10 mg each day, depending on symptoms of withdrawal, and discontinues therapy on Day 8. Throughout the microdosing induction, Mr. M does not experience withdrawal symptoms and is now managed on buprenorphine 12 mg/d.

Related Resources

Drug Brand Names

Amiodarone • Cordarone
Buprenorphine • Subutex, Sublocade
Buprenorphine/naloxone • Suboxone, Zubsolv
Methadone • Dolophine, Methadose
Naltrexone • ReVia, Vivitrol


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