Ultra-low-dose buprenorphine as a time-limited treatment for severe suicidal ideation: A randomized controlled trial

Yoram Yovell, Gali Bar, Moti Mashiah, Yehuda Baruch, Irina Briskman, Jack Asherov, Amit Lotan, Amihai Rigbi, Jaak Panksepp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Suicidal ideation and behavior currently have no quick-acting pharmacological treatments that are suitable for independent outpatient use. Suicidality is linked to mental pain, which is modulated by the separation distress system through endogenous opioids. The authors tested the efficacy and safety of very low dosages of sublingual buprenorphine as a time-limited treatment for severe suicidal ideation. Method: This was a multisite randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of ultra-low-dose sublingual buprenorphine as an adjunctive treatment. Severely suicidal patients without substance abuse were randomly assigned to receive either buprenorphine or placebo (in a 2:1 ratio), in addition to their ongoing individual treatments. The primary outcome measurewaschangein suicidal ideation,asassessedbytheBeck SuicideIdeationScale attheendofeachof4weeksof treatment. Results: Patients who received ultra-low-dose buprenorphine (initial dosage, 0.1 mg once or twice daily; mean final dosage=0.44 mg/day; N=40) had a greater reduction in Beck Suicide Ideation Scale scores than patients who received placebo (N=22), both after 2 weeks (mean difference 24.3, 95% CI=28.5, 20.2) and after 4 weeks (mean difference=27.1, 95% CI=212.0, 22.3). Concurrent use of antidepressants and a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder did not affect the response to buprenorphine. No withdrawal symptoms were reported after treatment discontinuation at the end of the trial. Conclusions:The time-limited, short-termuse of very low dosages of sublingual buprenorphine was associated with decreased suicidal ideation in severely suicidal patients without substance abuse. Further research is needed to establish the efficacy, safety, dosing, and appropriate patient populations for this experimental treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-498
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Dr. Yovell and Dr. Panksepp were supported by the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (New York). The study was also supported by the Neuropsychoanalysis Foundation and the Institute for the Study of Affective Neuroscience (University of Haifa).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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