BELBUCA® (buprenorphine buccal film)

BELBUCA® (buprenorphine buccal film)

BELBUCA® (buprenorphine buccal film)

BELBUCA is a buccal film that provides transmucosal delivery of buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist. BELBUCA is a rectangular bi-layer, peppermint-flavored, buccal film with rounded corners, consisting of a white to off-white backing layer with strength identifier printed in black ink and a light yellow to yellow active mucoadhesive layer containing buprenorphine hydrochloride. The yellow side of the film is applied to the inside of the cheek where it adheres to the moist buccal mucosa to deliver the drug as the film dissolves.

Buprenorphine hydrochloride USP is the active ingredient in BELBUCA. The chemical name of buprenorphine hydrochloride is 6,14-ethenomorphinan-7-methanol, 17-(cyclopropylmethyl)- α-(1,1-dimethylethyl)-4, 5-epoxy18,19-dihydro-3-hydroxy-6-methoxy-α-methyl-, hydrochloride, [5α, 7α, (S)].

The molecular weight of buprenorphine hydrochloride is 504.10; the empirical formula is C29H41NO4∙HCl. Buprenorphine hydrochloride occurs as a white or off-white crystalline powder. It is sparingly soluble in water, freely soluble in methanol, soluble in alcohol, and practically insoluble in cyclohexane. The pKa is 8.5 for the amine function and 10.0 for the phenol function.

Indications and usage

BELBUCA buccal film contains buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist. BELBUCA is indicated for the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment and for which alternative treatment options are inadequate.

Limitations of Use

  • Because of the risks of addiction, abuse, and misuse with opioids, even at recommended doses, and because of the greater risks of overdose and death with long-acting opioid formulations, reserve BELBUCA for use in patients for whom alternative treatment options (e.g., non-opioid analgesics or immediate-release opioids) are ineffective, not tolerated, or would be otherwise inadequate to provide sufficient management of pain.
  • BELBUCA is not indicated as an as-needed (prn) analgesic

Mechanism of Action

Buprenorphine is a partial agonist at the mu-opioid receptor and an antagonist at the kappa-opioid receptor.

Dosage and administration

  • To be prescribed only by health care providers knowledgeable in use of potent opioids for management of chronic pain.
  • Use the lowest effective dosage for the shortest duration consistent with individual patient treatment goals.
  • Individualize dosing based on the severity of pain, patient response, prior analgesic experience, and risk factors for addiction, abuse, and misuse.
  • Discuss availability of naloxone with the patient and caregiver and assess each patient’s need for access to naloxone, both when initiating and renewing treatment with BELBUCA. Consider prescribing naloxone based on the patient’s risk factors for overdose.

Initiate treatment in opioid-naïve and opioid-non-tolerant patients with a 75 mcg film once daily or, if tolerated, every 12 hours for at least 4 days, then increase dose to 150 mcg every 12 hours. Individual titration to a dose that provides adequate analgesia and minimizes adverse reactions should proceed in increments of 150 mcg every 12 hours, no more frequently than every 4 days. Use of higher starting doses in patients who are not opioid tolerant may cause fatal respiratory depression

For opioid-naïve patients: Initiate therapy with 75 mcg BELBUCA once daily or every 12 hours, as tolerated, for at least 4 days before increasing dose to 150 mcg every 12 hours.

Conversion from other opioids to BELBUCA: Taper current daily opioid dose to 30 mg oral morphine sulfate equivalents (MSE) or less prior to initiating therapy with BELBUCA.

  • For patients taking less than 30 mg oral MSE, initiate therapy with 75 mcg once daily or every 12 hours.
  • For patients taking between 30 mg and 89 mg oral MSE, initiate therapy with 150 mcg BELBUCA every 12 hours following analgesic taper.
  • For patients taking between 90 mg and 160 mg oral MSE, initiate therapy with 300 mcg BELBUCA every 12 hours following analgesic taper.
  • For patients taking greater than 160 mg oral MSE, consider alternate analgesic.

BELBUCA doses of 600 mcg, 750 mcg, and 900 mcg are only for use following titration from lower doses of BELBUCA.

Do not abruptly discontinue BELBUCA in a physically-dependent patient because rapid discontinuation of opioid analgesics has resulted in serious withdrawal symptoms, uncontrolled pain, and suicide.


Patients with Severe Hepatic Impairment: Reduce the starting and incremental dose by half that of patients with normal liver function.

Patients with Oral Mucositis: Reduce the starting and incremental dose by half that of patients without mucositis.


BELBUCA should not be used if the package seal is broken or the film is cut, damaged, or changed in any way.

First, the patient must use the tongue to wet the inside of the cheek or rinse the mouth with water to wet the area for placement of BELBUCA. BELBUCA is then applied immediately after removal from the individually sealed package. The yellow side of the BELBUCA film is placed against the inside of the cheek. The entire BELBUCA film is held in place with clean, dry fingers for 5 seconds and then left in place on the inside of the cheek until fully dissolved.

BELBUCA adheres to the moist buccal mucosa and will completely dissolve after application, usually within 30 minutes. The film should not be manipulated with the tongue or finger(s) and eating food and drinking liquids should be avoided until the film has dissolved.

A BELBUCA film, if chewed or swallowed, may result in lower peak concentrations and lower bioavailability than when used as directed. Demonstrate proper administration technique to the patient


BELBUCA is contraindicated in patients with:

  • Significant respiratory depression.
  • Acute or severe bronchial asthma in an unmonitored setting or in the absence of resuscitative equipment.
  • Known or suspected gastrointestinal obstruction, including paralytic ileus.
  • Hypersensitivity (e.g., anaphylaxis) to buprenorphine

Warnings and precautions

Addiction, Abuse, and Misuse: BELBUCA contains buprenorphine, a Schedule III controlled substance. As an opioid, BELBUCA exposes users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and misuse. Although the risk of addiction in any individual is unknown, it can occur in patients appropriately prescribed BELBUCA. Addiction can occur at recommended dosages and if the drug is misused or abused.

Life-Threatening Respiratory Depression: Serious, life-threatening, or fatal respiratory depression has been reported with the use of opioids, even when used as recommended. Respiratory depression, if not immediately recognized and treated, may lead to respiratory arrest and death. Management of respiratory depression may include close observation, supportive measures, and use of opioid antagonists, depending on the patient’s clinical status. Carbon dioxide (CO2) retention from opioid-induced respiratory depression can exacerbate the sedating effects of opioids.

While serious, life-threatening or fatal respiratory depression can occur at any time during the use of BELBUCA, the risk is greatest during initiation of therapy or following a dosage increase. Monitor patients closely for respiratory depression when initiating therapy with BELBUCA and following dosage increases.

Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome: Prolonged use of BELBUCA during pregnancy can result in withdrawal in the neonate. Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, unlike opioid withdrawal syndrome in adults, may be life-threatening if not recognized and treated, and requires management according to protocols developed by neonatology experts. Observe newborns for signs of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and manage accordingly. Advise pregnant women using opioids for a prolonged period of the risk of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and ensure that appropriate treatment will be available.

Risks due to Interactions with Benzodiazepines or Other Central Nervous System Depressants: Profound sedation, respiratory depression, coma, and death may result from the concomitant use of BELBUCA with benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants (e.g., non-benzodiazepine sedatives/hypnotics, anxiolytics, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, general anesthetics, antipsychotics, other opioids, alcohol). Because of these risks, reserve concomitant prescribing of these drugs for use in patients for whom alternative treatment options are inadequate.

If the decision is made to prescribe a benzodiazepine or other CNS depressant concomitantly with an opioid analgesic, prescribe the lowest effective dosages and minimum durations of concomitant use. In patients already receiving an opioid analgesic, prescribe a lower initial dose of the benzodiazepine or other CNS depressant than indicated in the absence of an opioid, and titrate based on clinical response. If an opioid analgesic is initiated in a patient already taking a benzodiazepine or other CNS depressant, prescribe a lower initial dose of the opioid analgesic, and titrate based on clinical response. Follow patients closely for signs and symptoms of respiratory depression and sedation.

Adrenal Insufficiency: Cases of adrenal insufficiency have been reported with opioid use, more often following greater than one month of use. Presentation of adrenal insufficiency may include non-specific symptoms and signs including nausea, vomiting, anorexia, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and low blood pressure. If adrenal insufficiency is suspected, confirm the diagnosis with diagnostic testing as soon as possible. If adrenal insufficiency is diagnosed, treat with physiologic replacement doses of corticosteroids. Wean the patient off of the opioid to allow adrenal function to recover and continue corticosteroid treatment until adrenal function recovers. Other opioids may be tried as some cases reported use of a different opioid without recurrence of adrenal insufficiency. The information available does not identify any particular opioids as being more likely to be associated with adrenal insufficiency.

QTc Prolongation: BELBUCA has been observed to prolong the QTc interval in some subjects participating in clinical trials. Consider these observations in clinical decisions when prescribing BELBUCA to patients with hypokalemia, hypomagnesemia, or clinically unstable cardiac disease, including unstable atrial fibrillation, symptomatic bradycardia, unstable congestive heart failure, or active myocardial ischemia. Periodic electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring is recommended in these patients. Avoid the use of BELBUCA in patients with a history of Long QT Syndrome or an immediate family member with this condition or those taking Class IA antiarrhythmic medications (e.g., quinidine, procainamide, disopyramide) or Class III antiarrhythmic medications (e.g., sotalol, amiodarone, dofetilide), or other medications that prolong the QT interval.

Severe Hypotension: BELBUCA may cause severe hypotension including orthostatic hypotension and syncope in ambulatory patients. There is an increased risk in patients whose ability to maintain blood pressure has already been compromised by a reduced blood volume or concurrent administration of certain CNS depressant drugs (e.g., phenothiazines or general anesthetics). Monitor these patients for signs of hypotension after initiating or titrating the dosage of BELBUCA. In patients with circulatory shock, BELBUCA may cause vasodilation that can further reduce cardiac output and blood pressure. Avoid the use of BELBUCA in patients with circulatory shock.

Risks of Use in Patients with Increased Intracranial Pressure, Brain Tumors, Head Injury, or Impaired Consciousness

In patients who may be susceptible to the intracranial effects of CO2 retention (e.g., those with evidence of increased intracranial pressure or brain tumors), BELBUCA may reduce respiratory drive, and the resultant CO2 retention can further increase intracranial pressure. Monitor such patients for signs of sedation and respiratory depression, particularly when initiating therapy with BELBUCA.

Hepatotoxicity: Cases of cytolytic hepatitis and hepatitis with jaundice have been observed in individuals receiving sublingual formulations of buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid dependence, both in clinical trials and in postmarketing adverse events reports. The spectrum of abnormalities ranges from transient asymptomatic elevations in hepatic transaminases to case reports of hepatic failure, hepatic necrosis, hepatorenal syndrome, and hepatic encephalopathy.

Anaphylactic/Allergic Reactions: Cases of acute and chronic hypersensitivity to buprenorphine have been reported both in clinical trials and in post-marketing experience. The most common signs and symptoms include rashes, hives, and pruritus. Cases of bronchospasm, angioneurotic edema, and anaphylactic shock have been reported. BELBUCA is contraindicated in patients with a history of hypersensitivity to buprenorphine.

Withdrawal: Do not abruptly discontinue BELBUCA in a patient physically dependent on opioids. When discontinuing BELBUCA in a physically dependent patient, gradually taper the dosage. Rapid tapering of buprenorphine in a patient physically dependent on opioids may lead to a withdrawal syndrome and return of pain.

Risk of Use in Patients with Gastrointestinal Conditions: BELBUCA is contraindicated in patients with known or suspected gastrointestinal obstruction, including paralytic ileus. BELBUCA may cause spasm of the sphincter of Oddi. Opioids may cause increases in the serum amylase. Monitor patients with biliary tract disease, including acute pancreatitis, for worsening symptoms.

Risks of Driving and Operating Machinery: BELBUCA may impair the mental and physical abilities needed to perform potentially hazardous activities such as driving a car or operating machinery. Warn patients not to drive or operate dangerous machinery unless they are tolerant to side effects of BELBUCA and know how they will react to the medication.

Adverse reactions

Most common adverse reactions (>5%) include nausea, constipation, headache, vomiting, dizziness, and somnolence.

Drug interactions

Benzodiazepines and Other Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants: Due to additive pharmacologic effect, the concomitant use of benzodiazepines or other CNS depressants, including alcohol, can increase the risk of hypotension, respiratory depression, profound sedation, coma, and death. Reserve concomitant prescribing of these drugs for use in patients for whom alternative treatment options are inadequate. Limit dosages and durations to the minimum required. Follow patients closely for signs of respiratory depression and sedation.

Examples: Benzodiazepines and other sedatives/hypnotics, anxiolytics, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, general anesthetics, antipsychotics, and other opioids, alcohol.

Inhibitors of CYP3A4: The concomitant use of buprenorphine and CYP3A4 inhibitors can increase the plasma concentration of buprenorphine, resulting in increased or prolonged opioid effects, particularly when an inhibitor is added after a stable dose of BELBUCA is achieved. If concomitant use is necessary, consider dosage reduction of BELBUCA until stable drug effects are achieved. Monitor patients for respiratory depression and sedation at frequent intervals.

Examples: Macrolide antibiotics (e.g., erythromycin), azole-antifungal agents (e.g., ketoconazole), protease inhibitors (e.g., ritonavir)

Serotonergic Drugs: The concomitant use of opioids with other drugs that affect the serotonergic neurotransmitter system has resulted in serotonin syndrome.

Examples: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), triptans, 5-HT3 receptor antagonists, drugs that affect the serotonin neurotransmitter system (e.g., mirtazapine, trazodone, tramadol), certain muscle relaxants (i.e., cyclobenzaprine, metaxalone), monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors (those intended to treat psychiatric disorders and also others, such as linezolid and intravenous methylene blue).

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): MAOI interactions with opioids may manifest as serotonin syndrome opioid toxicity (e.g., respiratory depression, coma). Examples: phenelzine, tranylcypromine, linezolid

Mixed Agonist/Antagonist and Partial Agonist Opioid Analgesics: May reduce the analgesic effect of BELBUCA and/or precipitate withdrawal symptoms. Avoid concomitant use. Examples: butorphanol, nalbuphine, pentazocine

Diuretics: Opioids can reduce the efficacy of diuretics by inducing the release of antidiuretic hormone. Monitor patients for signs of diminished diuresis and/or effects on blood pressure and increase the dosage of the diuretic as needed.

Anticholinergic Drugs: The concomitant use of anticholinergic drugs may increase the risk of urinary retention and/or severe constipation, which may lead to paralytic ileus. Monitor patients for signs of urinary retention or reduced gastric motility when BELBUCA is used concomitantly with anticholinergic drugs.

Use in specific populations

Pregnancy: Prolonged use of opioid analgesics during pregnancy may cause neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome. Prolonged use of opioid analgesics during pregnancy for medical or nonmedical purposes can result in physical dependence in the neonate and neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome shortly after birth. Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome presents as irritability, hyperactivity and abnormal sleep pattern, high pitched cry, tremor, vomiting, diarrhea, and failure to gain weight. The onset, duration, and severity of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome vary based on the specific opioid used, duration of use, timing and amount of last maternal use, and rate of elimination of the drug by the newborn. Observe newborns for symptoms of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome and manage accordingly

Lactation: Based on two studies in 13 lactating women being treated for opioid dependence and their breastfed infants, buprenorphine and its metabolite norbuprenorphine are present in low levels in human milk and infant urine, and available data have not shown adverse reactions in breastfed infants.


Monitor infants exposed to BELBUCA through breast milk for excess sedation and respiratory depression. Withdrawal symptoms can occur in breastfed infants when maternal administration of buprenorphine is stopped or when breastfeeding is stopped.

Drug abuse and dependence

Controlled Substance: BELBUCA contains buprenorphine hydrochloride, a Schedule III controlled substance.

Abuse: BELBUCA contains buprenorphine, a substance with a potential for abuse similar to other Schedule III opioids. BELBUCA can be abused and is subject to misuse, abuse, addiction, and criminal diversion

All patients treated with opioids, including BELBUCA, require careful monitoring for signs of abuse and addiction, because use of opioid analgesic products carry the risk of addiction, even under appropriate medical use.

Prescription drug abuse is the intentional, non-therapeutic use of a prescription drug, even once, for its rewarding psychological or physiological effects.

Dependence: Both tolerance and physical dependence can develop during chronic opioid therapy. Tolerance is the need for increasing doses of opioids to maintain a defined effect such as analgesia (in the absence of disease progression or other external factors). Tolerance may occur to both the desired and undesired effects of drugs and may develop at different rates for different effects.

Physical dependence is a physiological state in which the body adapts to the drug after a period of regular exposure, resulting in withdrawal symptoms after abrupt discontinuation or a significant dosage reduction of a drug. Withdrawal also may be precipitated through the administration of drugs with opioid antagonist activity (e.g., naloxone, nalmefene), or mixed agonist/antagonist analgesics (e.g., pentazocine, butorphanol, nalbuphine). Physical dependence may not occur to a clinically significant degree until after several days to weeks of continued opioid usage.


Acute overdosage with BELBUCA is manifested by respiratory depression, somnolence progressing to stupor or coma, skeletal muscle flaccidity, cold and clammy skin, constricted pupils, and, in some cases, pulmonary edema, bradycardia, hypotension, partial or complete airway obstruction, atypical snoring, and death. Marked mydriasis rather than miosis may be seen due to severe hypoxia in overdose situations

Treatment of Overdose

In case of overdose, priorities are the re-establishment of a patent and protected airway and institution of assisted or controlled ventilation, if needed. Employ other supportive measures (including oxygen, vasopressors) in the management of circulatory shock and pulmonary edema, as indicated. Cardiac arrest or arrhythmias will require advanced life support techniques.

Opioid antagonists, such as naloxone, are specific antidotes to respiratory depression resulting from opioid overdose. However, naloxone may not be effective in reversing any respiratory depression produced by buprenorphine. High doses of naloxone, 10-35 mg/70 kg, may be of limited value in the management of buprenorphine overdose. The onset of naloxone effect may be delayed by 30 minutes or more. Doxapram hydrochloride (a respiratory stimulant) has also been used.

In an individual physically dependent on opioids, administration of an opioid receptor antagonist may precipitate an acute withdrawal. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms experienced will depend on the degree of physical dependence and the dose of the antagonist administered. If a decision is made to treat serious respiratory depression in the physically dependent patient, administration of the antagonist should be begun with care and by titration with smaller than usual doses of the antagonist.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: