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The Dangers Of Using Or Prescribing A Fentanyl Patch

WHat Are Fentanyl Patches?

The fentanyl patch was developed by Alza Corporation, and approved by the FDA in 1990 as the Duragesic Patch for use by people with persistent, moderate-to-severe pain who have been taking other opioids. It is marketed by Janssen Pharmaceutical Products, LP. (Alza and Janssen are subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson.)

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If you have to take a dangerous narcotic drug, the patch seems to have advantages:

  • They don’t hurt.
  • You don’t have to suffer through a shot.
  • You don’t have to have an IV put in your arm.
  • The drug doesn’t have to be swallowed.
  • You don’t have to worry about a patient taking too much or too little or forgetting to take a dose.
  • You don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to take a pill.
  • The drug enters the bloodstream directly and doesn’t go through the stomach which is slower and thus doesn’t cause stomach irritations like some tablets or capsules.

Actiq Lozenges And Lollipops

Fentanyl is also marketed as Actiq lozenges and lollipops. Because they contain such a high amount of fentanyl, they are also subject to unknowing abuse.

Warnings About Prescribing the Fentanyl Patch

Because the fentanyl patch can be as much as 100 times more potent than a normal dose of heroin, one of the warnings on the label required by the FDA when the patch was approved is that the patch is only for someone who is currently taking an equivalent dosage of other opioids and has become “opioid tolerant”. Otherwise, the opioid released by the patch, just like too much heroin, methadone or OxyContin, can cause an overdose leading to respiratory failure and, if not immediately addressed, death.

Because it transfers the opioid through the skin directly into the bloodstream over a 72-hour period, it is very important that dosage being transferred through the patch is carefully calculated. The Duragesic patch is measured in micrograms — not milligrams.

For example, a person switching from 100 milligrams a day of OxyContin to the Duragesic patch should use no more than a 50 micrograms/hour patch. Many doctors may prescribe lower amounts of the patch because too high a dose can lead to respiratory depression and death in even a person who is accustomed to taking opioids for pain.

People Who Are Not Opioid Tolerant Can Die

Opioid tolerant means that a person is used to taking narcotics like OxyContin. Many of us are aware that there are young people who had no prior exposure to OxyContin who took one pill and overdosed—some never were revived.

Unfortunately, some doctors ignored the FDA warnings and prescribed the patch for patients who had just come out of surgery but were not used to taking opioids. Many of these patients experienced severe respiratory depression and some died. Other doctors ignored the warning and prescribed the patches to address pain in children who had not previously used opioids, and they suffered severe respiratory depression and some of them also died.

An August 27, 2007, article in the Los Angeles Times by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar told the story of Army Master Sgt. Harold Kinamon. Sgt. Kinamon entered a military hospital in Ohio for routine respiratory surgery to help him sleep better. The operation, in October 2005, progressed smoothly. He went home with nothing more than a raw throat and the patch on his skin.

That night, Kinamon, 41, died in his sleep — killed by an overdose of the drug delivered through the patch.

This was three months after the FDA’s first warning that fentanyl patches should be used with great caution, and not for postoperative pain relief.

Leaking Fentanyl Patches Lead To Overdose

However, not all of the deaths attributed to the patch were from careless doctors or improper use by patients. Some of the patches produced by Janssen “leaked”. In 2004, Janssen was forced to recall 2.2 million Duragesic patches that were defective.

If a patch is leaking, then instead of being delivered over 72 hours, the drug is released much more rapidly and this can also lead to an overdose and death.

Janssen and Alza were sued by the family of 28-year-old Adam Hendelson following his death on December 17, 2003. Mr. Hendelson suffered chronic hip pain as a result of an automobile accident, and wore a Duragesic patch. Attorneys for the family were able to show that the death was caused by a leak in the patch that led to an opioid overdose, and the family was awarded $5.5 million.

In December of 2008, a Chicago jury awarded $16.5 million to the family of a woman who died because the patch “leaked” and the woman died of respiratory failure.

Heat And The Fentanyl Patch Can Lead To Overdose

Heat on the patch will increase the amount of the opioid released into the body, possibly creating an overdose that can lead to death. People using the patch when they had fevers overdosed and some died. People wore the patch in saunas or applied heating pads to the area or sunbathed while wearing the patch and overdosed and some died.

Other Deaths Attributed To Fentanyl

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office investigated 32 accidental deaths related to fentanyl in 2006, the same number as in 2005, the year the FDA issued its first warning. Florida authorities reported 126 accidental deaths related to fentanyl in 2006, a rate one expert in the state described as “steady.”

In 2007, the Division of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices performed an Adverse Events Reporting System Review of the FDA’s most dangerous drugs. The study discovered fentanyl to be the second most dangerous drug available on the market with the second highest number of suspect drug deaths. During the study, fentanyl was involved in no fewer than 3,500 suspect drug deaths during the 8-year period.

Warnings Issued By The National Institute of Drug Abuse

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), in its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.

NIDA warns:

When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenge form. However, the type of fentanyl associated with recent overdoses was produced in clandestine laboratories and mixed with (or substituted for) heroin in a powder form.
Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies their potency and potential dangers. Effects include: euphoria, drowsiness/respiratory depression and arrest (death), nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, and addiction.

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Let Us Help You On Your Road To Recovery

Our staff here at Novus Detox® have helped thousands of people fight back against their addiction over the years, and we remain committed to working with each new patient we welcome through our doors to ensure that they have a safe and successful recovery. Call us at (855) 464-8550 to speak with a member of our staff and learn more about what we can do for you, or send us a confidential message through our online form today.


We develop an individualized medical detox program specifically for each of our patients, which means no recovery will look the same. Our delicious food, nutritional IVs and supplements, and specialized detox protocols are all designed to quicken the healing process. We understand that various addictions present a number of issues for the human body, so we create our IVs and diets to fit the needs of specific withdrawal symptoms.

Our process is all about you, which is why we have private and shared rooms available for our residents. Each room is outfitted with a TV, telephone, and access to the internet. We also provide educational classes that will show you how the drug or alcohol of your choice affects your body. We believe that to effectively fight off your withdrawal symptoms, it is important to know what you are fighting against and what to be prepared for.

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