UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Toxicology

Title: Buprenorphine Poisoning in Children (submitted by Ashley Strobel, MD)

Keywords: buprenorphine, Suboxone, overdose, children (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/10/2012 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 1/12/2012) (Updated: 1/12/2012)
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  • Suboxone = buprenorphine and naloxone in a 4:1 ratio, respectively. Formulated in 2 mg or 8mg tablets and film.

  • Buprenorphine acts as a partial agonist on the mu receptor and an antagonist at the kappa receptor.

  • If > 2 mg are ingested or age < 2 years old, these patients should be evaluated in an ED as ALL children with > 4 mg ingestion had symptoms.

  • There is a ceiling effect with respiratory depression however no ceiling with analgesia. This gives buprenorphine a better safety profile compared to methadone.

  • Onset of symptoms is about an hour and onset of respiratory depression is about 2-3 hours.

  • Increased doses of naloxone starting at 0.1 mg/kg may be needed to overcome high receptor affinity of buprenorphine. Remember, most children are opioid-naive and will not experience withdrawal symptoms. Repeat doses of naloxone and even infusions may be needed.

  • In the ED, a minimum of 6 hours observation is necessary. If no clinical effects are noted at 6 hours the patient can safely be discharged, although one small case series recommended 24 hours observation.

  • Unintentional overdose is common in toddlers, so advise family to keep prescriptions including family pet prescriptions locked (buprenorphine in the IV form is used for veterinary pain control).


Hayes BD, Klein-Schwartz W, Doyon S. Toxicity of buprenorphine overdoses in children. Pediatrics 2008;121(4):e782-6.

Geib AJ, Babu K, Ewald MB, et al. Adverse effects in children after unintentional buprenorphine exposure. Pediatrics 2006;118(4):1746-51.