Characteristics and circumstances of death related to buprenorphine toxicity in Australia

Publication Name

Drug and Alcohol Dependence


Background: Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid used in the treatment of opioid dependence and chronic pain. The current study aimed to determine the characteristics and circumstances of all recorded cases of buprenorphine-related toxicity death in Australia; determine toxicology and organ pathology; and compare these profiles to cases of death due to buprenorphine-related traumatic injury. Methods: All cases of buprenorphine-related drug toxicity death were retrieved from the National Coronial Information System (2000–2019), as were all cases of buprenorphine-related traumatic injury. Information was collected on cause of death, case characteristics, toxicology and major organ pathology. Results: A total of 314 cases of drug toxicity and 55 of traumatic injury were identified. Toxicity cases were significantly older (40.5 v 36.1 years), more likely to have a history of chronic pain (OR 2.95), less likely to have a history of injecting drug use (OR 0.09), but more likely to have injected buprenorphine proximal to death (OR 4.90). There were no group differences in buprenorphine or norbuprenorphine toxicology. Toxicity cases were more likely to have hypnosedatives (OR 2.08) and other opioids (OR 4.69) present, but less likely to have psychostimulants (OR 0.26) and THC (OR 0.45). Toxicity cases were more likely to be obese (OR 4.05), have pre-existing cardiovascular disease (OR 4.02) and heavier hearts (412.1 v 355.2 g). Conclusions: Buprenorphine-related toxicity death cases differed from trauma deaths in their characteristics, toxicology and disease. Fatal buprenorphine toxicity is associated with older age, concurrent use of depressants and cardiovascular disease.

Open Access Status

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Government



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