"Sub is a Weird Drug": A Web-Based Study of Lay Attitudes About Use of Buprenorphine to Self-Treat Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

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Illicit use of buprenorphine has increased in the U.S., but our understanding of its use remains limited. This study aims to explore Web-forum discussions about the use of buprenorphine to self-treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.


PREDOSE, a novel Semantic Web platform, was used to extract relevant posts from a Web-forum that allows free discussions on illicit drugs. First, we extract information about the total number of buprenorphine-related posts per year between 2005 and 2013. Second, PREDOSE was used to identify all posts that potentially contained discussions about buprenorphine and opioid withdrawal. A total number of 1,217 posts that contained these terms were extracted and entered into NVivo data base. A random sample of 404 (33%) posts was selected and content analyzed.


Buprenorphine-related posts increased over time, peaking in 2011. The posts were about equally divided between those that expressed positive and negative views about the effectiveness of buprenorphine in relieving withdrawal symptoms. Web-forum participants emphasized that buprenorphine's effectiveness may become compromised because of the “size of a person habit,” and/or when users repeatedly switch back and forth between buprenorphine and other illicit opioids. Most posts reported use of significantly lower amounts of buprenorphine (≤2 mg) than doses used in standard treatment. Concomitant use of other psychoactive substances was also commonly reported, which may present significant health risks.


Our findings highlight the usefulness of Web-based data in drug abuse research and add new information about lay beliefs about buprenorphine that may help inform prevention and policy measures.



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