Low Dose Initiation of Buprenorphine: A Narrative Review and Practical Approach

Shawn M. Cohen, Melissa Weimer, Ximena A. Levander, Alyssa M. Peckham, Jeanette M. Tetrault, Kenneth L. Morford

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Low dose buprenorphine initiation, is an alternative method of initiating buprenorphine in which the starting dose is very low and gradually increased to therapeutic levels over a period of days. This method takes advantage of slow displacement of the full opioid agonist from mu-opioid receptors, avoiding the need for a person with opioid use disorder to experience opioid withdrawal symptoms before initiating buprenorphine, while also minimizing the risk of precipitated opioid withdrawal. With this initiation method, full opioid agonists can be continued as buprenorphine is initiated, expanding the population to which buprenorphine can be offered. To date, the literature on low dose initiation is primarily case-based but rapidly growing. While evidence emerges, guidance for the use of low dose initiation is clearly desired and urgently needed in the context of an increasingly risky and contaminated opioid drug supply, particularly with high potency synthetic opioids, driving overdose deaths. Despite limited evidence, several principles to guide low dose initiation have been identified including: (1) choosing the appropriate clinical situation, (2) initiating at a low buprenorphine dose, (3) titrating the buprenorphine dose gradually, (4) continuing the full opioid agonist even if it is nonmedical, (5) communicating clearly with frequent monitoring, (6) pausing or delaying buprenorphine dose changes if opioid withdrawal symptoms occur, and (7) prioritizing care coordination. We review a practical approach to low dose initiation in hospital-based and outpatient settings guided by the current evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-406
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of addiction medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022


  • Bernese method
  • buprenorphine
  • low dose initiation
  • microdose
  • opioid-related disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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