Illicit Use of Buprenorphine in a Community Sample of Young Adult Non-Medical Users of Pharmaceutical Opioids

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There is growing evidence about illicit use of buprenorphine in the U.S. The study aims to: (1) identify prevalence and predictors of illicit buprenorphine use in a community sample of 396 young adult (18–23 years old) non-medical users of pharmaceutical opioids and (2) describe knowledge, attitudes and behaviors linked to illicit buprenorphine use as reported by a qualitative sub-sample (n = 51).


Participants were recruited using respondent-driven sampling. Qualitative interview participants were selected from the larger sample. The sample (n = 396) was 54% male and 50% white; 7.8% reported lifetime illicit use of buprenorphine.


Logistic regression analysis results indicate that white ethnicity, intranasal inhalation of pharmaceutical opioids, symptoms of opioid dependence, and a greater number of pharmaceutical opioids used in lifetime were statistically significant predictors of illicit buprenorphine use. Qualitative interviews revealed that buprenorphine was more commonly used by more experienced users who were introduced to it by their “junkie friends.” Those who used buprenorphine to self-medicate withdrawal referred to it as a “miracle pill.” When used to get high, reported experiences ranged from “the best high ever” to “puking for days.” Participants reported using buprenorphine/naloxone orally or by intranasal inhalation. Injection of buprenorphine without naloxone was also reported.


Our findings suggest that illicit buprenorphine use is gaining ground primarily among whites and those who are more advanced in their drug use careers. Continued monitoring is needed to better understand evolving patterns and trends of illicit buprenorphine use.