Effective buprenorphine use and tapering strategies: Endorsements and insights by people in recovery from opioid use disorder on a Reddit forum

Graves RL, Sarker A, Al-Garadi MA, Yang YC, Love JS, O’Connor K, Gonzalez-Hernandez G, Perrone J. Effective buprenorphine use and tapering strategies: Endorsements and insights by people in recovery from opioid use disorder on a Reddit forum. bioRxiv. 2019 Jan 1:871608. doi: 10.1101/871608.

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Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a public health emergency in the United States. Over 47,000 overdose-related deaths in 2017 involved opioids. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), in particular, buprenorphine and buprenorphine combination products such as Suboxone®, is the most effective, evidence-based treatment for OUD. However, there are a limited number of conclusive scientific studies that provide guidance to medical professionals about strategies for using buprenorphine to achieve stable recovery. In this study, we used data-driven natural language processing methods to mine a total of 16,146 posts about buprenorphine from 1933 unique users on the anonymous social network Reddit. Analysis of a sample of these posts showed that 74% of the posts described users’ personal experiences and that the top three topics included advice on using Suboxone® (55.0%), Suboxone® dosage information (35.5%) and information about Suboxone® tapering (32.0%). Based on two models, one that incorporated ‘upvoting’ by other members and one that did not, we found that Reddit users reported more successful recovery with longer tapering schedules, particularly from 2.0 mg to 0.0 mg (median: 93 days; mean: 95 days), as compared to shorter tapering schedules investigated in past clinical trials. Diarrhea, insomnia, restlessness, and fatigue were commonly reported adverse events. Physical exercise, clonidine, and Imodium® were frequently reported to help during the recovery process. Due to the difficulties of conducting longer-term clinical trials involving patients with OUD, clinicians should consider other information sources including peer discussions from the abundant, real-time information available on Reddit.

Significance Statement 

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a national crisis in the United States and buprenorphine is one of the most effective evidence-based treatments. However, few studies have explored successful strategies for using and tapering buprenorphine to achieve stable recovery, particularly due to the difficulties of conducting long-term studies involving patients with OUD. In this study, we show that discussions on the anonymous social network Reddit may be leveraged, via automatic text mining methods, to discover successful buprenorphine use and tapering strategies. We discovered that longer tapering schedules, compared to those investigated in past clinical trials, may lead to (self-reported) sustained recovery. Furthermore, Reddit posts also provide key information regarding buprenorphine withdrawal, cravings, adjunct medications for withdrawal symptoms and relapse prevention strategies.