Buprenorphine-Fast facts for schools
A student who is using non-prescribed buprenorphine may appear sleepy with small pupils and slurred speech and movements.
Buprenorphine is a medication prescribed by doctors to help people dependant on heroin (or other opiate drugs) manage cravings and reduce the harms of heroin use. It works in the body in a similar way to heroin but is legal, made safely in a lab and lasts longer – meaning a person using buprenorphine is not constantly ‘looking for the next hit’.
It can be prescribed in an ongoing way or for a short timeframe to help with withdraw from heroin.
Bup, B, Suboxone, Subutex, Pharmacotherapy, OSTP, Opiate Substitution Therapy Program, ORT, Opiate Replacement Program, on The Program, Norspan
SIGNS SOMEONE HAS RECENTLY USED THIS DRUG
A student who is using non-prescribed buprenorphine may appear sleepy with small pupils and slurred speech and movements. They may feel relaxed and detached with reduced physical and emotional pain. Many young people use opiates because they have the power to temporarily dull physical and emotional pain. Side effects include nausea and sweating.
Though overdose is less likely than with other opiates (such as heroin) there is still a small risk. Call 000 if a student is unrousable, has bluish lips or difficulty breathing.
SIGNS THAT SOMEONE MIGHT BE USING OR DEALING AT MY SCHOOL
Like many prescription medications, there is a black market for Buprenorphine and it can be obtained illegally on the street.
In Australia Buprenorphine generally comes in a yellow coloured film about the length of a paperclip. A tablet form which was crushed and dissolved under the tongue is being phased out.
Usually buprenorphine is dissolved under the tongue however occassionally it is injected. Injecting buprenorphine is a high risk activity and often indicates other psychosocial vulnerabilities. It would be unusual to find a young person still engaged with schooling injecting buprenorphine.
HOW COMMON IS USAGE?
Buprenorphine is the second most prescribed medication for heroin dependency. A very small number of young people will try buprenorphine and an even smaller number will go on to develop a problem with this drug.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CLASSROOM
A student prescribed buprenorphine will usually need to go to the pharmacist every day to take their dose under supervision.
Taking the right dose of prescribed buprenorphine should not hold a student back from participating in the classroom and achieving learning goals.
Using buprenorphine that is not prescribed will impair a young person’s ability to focus and engage. More importantly, in our experience use of this drug by a young person (other than once off experimental use), is often related to high psycho-social vulnerability. If you do suspect buprenorphine use, surrounding that young person with support factors and getting school welfare involved would be a good starting point. You could also call YoDAA for secondary consult and talk through what you have observed.
IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOL CAMP
There are laws concerning the storage and handling of Buprenorphine. If a young person is prescribed Buprenorphine, their Doctor and Pharmacist should be contacted early in the School Camp planning process to arrange a way for them to get their daily dose whilst away from home.
Didn’t find what you are looking for? We’ve just given you the most relevant fast facts for school teachers’. For a more comprehensive guide we recommend the ADF’s info. Remember, if you are worried about a young person in your school, talk to YoDAA.