Considerations and limitations of buprenorphine prescribing for opioid use disorder in the intensive care unit setting: A narrative review

Brian L. Erstad, Melody J. Glenn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this review is to discuss important considerations when prescribing buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD) in the intensive care unit (ICU) setting, recognizing the challenges of providing detailed recommendations in the setting of limited available evidence. Summary: Buprenorphine is a partial mu-opioid receptor agonist that is likely to be increasingly prescribed for OUD in the ICU setting due to the relaxation of prescribing regulations. The pharmacology and pharmacokinetics of buprenorphine are complicated by the availability of several formulations that can be given by different administration routes. There is no single optimal dosing strategy for buprenorphine induction, with regimens ranging from very low-dose to high dose regimens. Faster induction with higher doses of buprenorphine has been studied and is frequently utilized in the emergency department. In patients admitted to the ICU who were receiving opioids either medically or illicitly, analgesia will not occur until their baseline opioid requirements are covered when their preadmission opioid is either reversed or interrupted. For patients in the ICU who are not on buprenorphine at the time of admission but have possible OUD, there are no validated tools to diagnose OUD or the severity of opioid withdrawal in critically ill patients unable to provide the subjective components of instruments validated in outpatient settings. When prescribing buprenorphine in the ICU, important issues to consider include dosing, monitoring, pain management, use of adjunctive medications, and considerations to transition to outpatient therapy. Ideally, addiction and pain management specialists would be available when buprenorphine is prescribed for critically ill patients. Conclusion: There are unique challenges when prescribing buprenorphine for OUD in critically ill patients, regardless of whether they were receiving buprenorphine when admitted to the ICU setting for OUD or are under consideration for buprenorphine initiation. There is a critical need for more research in this area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-182
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Health-System Pharmacy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2024


  • buprenorphine
  • care ICU
  • drug formulations
  • intensive care unit
  • opioid prescribing
  • opioid use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacy
  • Pharmacology
  • Health Policy


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