When you’re in pain and already exhausted many of your other pain options, you may question whether a fentanyl patch is right for you. Although it works effectively to combat severe pain, it does come with a number of unpleasant side effects and disadvantages. You need to weigh the pros and cons by educating yourself about the drug to determine if it’s the best course of action for you.
What Is A Fentanyl Patch?
General Information About Fentanyl Patches
A fentanyl patch, also known as a Duragesic patch, is a synthetic opioid in the form of a patch that adheres to your skin. Physicians prescribe it for severe pain. Fentanyl is the generic of Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®. It’s between 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, though it has a similar effect and is in the same category. This particular opioid is only for ongoing pain. In other words, you may not use it on an as-needed basis. Typically, they prescribe it to cancer patients or those who are tolerant of opioids and can’t find relief from other less potent narcotics. The patch works by altering how your brain responds to pain. It continuously delivers a time-released dosage of the medication for 72 hours.
Strengths Of Fentanyl Patches Available
The strength of the patch denotes the average dosage of fentanyl delivered to your circulatory system per hour. All dosages are in the form of micrograms (mcg) per hour. The available options include the following:
History Of The Drug Fentanyl
You may not have heard of fentanyl until recently when it made the news for the number of deaths it and carfentanil caused as street drugs. However, fentanyl itself originated back in 1960. Fentanyl started as a synthetic opioid that was stronger than morphine and Meperidine (Demerol®). At that time, researchers believed the potency of the drug was safer than other similar drugs on the market because there were fewer unbound molecules to cause issues with respiration and other opiate-related side effects. Animal studies supported the theory that fentanyl was safer than older opioids. The drug gained popularity as intravenous analgesic due to its short duration of action and minimal respiratory depression as well as its large safety margin. Additionally, fentanyl provided cardiovascular stability and blocked the body’s response to stress during surgery.
How To Use Fentanyl Patches
Your doctor may alter your current medications for pain once you’re on fentanyl patches. It’s possible you can still take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. After you get the patches, you apply them to your skin in areas without hair or sweat, such as on the following:
If there is hair on the region where you place the patch, you can use scissors to shorten the hair as close to the skin as you can. You shouldn’t shave the hair because it could cause irritation, and you can’t apply the patch to any area with burns, irritation, or cuts. You also shouldn’t apply it to any area where you received radiation. Usually, you need to change it every 72 hours. Once you remove one, you must apply the new one to another area. If you place it in the same area, it can lead to more rapid absorption, increasing your risk of an overdose.
How Do Fentanyl Patches Work?
How The Medication Is Released Into Your Body
The transdermal patch releases fentanyl into your system through the adhesive layer. The medication is actually in the reservoir above the adhesive layer but below the outer portion. The transdermal system gradually releases the medication, allowing you to receive a continuous dosage of the drug. The patch consists of a small amount of alcohol that enhances the absorption but limits the rate the medicine passes through your skin. The fentanyl in the patch starts by passing through the skin and into your fat cells and muscle. It then releases into your bloodstream, and at this point, how much you receive depends on your blood flow at the application site. Approximately, 92 percent of the fentanyl in the patch enters your circulatory system over the course of 72 hours.
How The Drug Reduces Pain And Causes Other Effects
Just like morphine, heroin, and other opioids drugs, this medication binds to the opioid receptors in your brain that control emotion and pain. By doing so, it inhibits your body from feeling pain and creates a feeling of contentment. Ultimately, it eases or eliminates your pain while still having a euphoric effect. When the drug goes into your system, it affects the limbic system, brainstem, and spinal cord. Your limbic system controls your emotions, which is how it produces effects like relaxation, contentment, and pleasure. Your brainstem, on the other hand, controls your breathing, which is why the fentanyl causes a decrease in your respiration. The drug reduces pain because it affects the spinal cord — the area of the body that sends feelings of pain to the brain. Additionally, when an opioid binds to the receptors, it causes an increase in the amount of dopamine produced by your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain that controls pleasure and reward. By stimulating it, fentanyl produces euphoria along with other symptoms like confusion and drowsiness.
Pros Of Using Fentanyl Patches
Fentanyl is effective at treating severe pain, in particular, breakthrough pain. It’s even effective for people who didn’t respond to other pain medications or who’ve built up a tolerance to them. Sometimes, finding pain relief is a trial and error process, and fentanyl is usually an option once you run out of other choices. It benefits those who have chronic pain because it continuously releases an analgesic into your system without interruption. Fentanyl supplies you with pain relief around the clock, so you don’t have to worry about taking multiple pills per day. Unlike a pill that you can forget at home, you always have your pain relief with you, as long as you change it every three days. It can eliminate the need for multiple prescriptions for different pain relievers.
Cons Of Using Fentanyl Patches
Even though duragesic patches effectively relieve pain, they do have their share of negatives, such as harmful side effects, the potential for an overdose, and the care it takes to properly discard them.
Side Effects Of Fentanyl Patches
Certain side effects are more common, but you should consult a physician if they're severe or won't go away. Examples of the more common side effects include:
You could experience serious side effects, although they aren’t as common. You should contact a physician immediately if experience any of the following:
If you experience one of the following symptoms, you should stop using your fentanyl patch immediately and either call your primary physician or seek out emergency treatment:
Constipation is possible with narcotic pain relievers. To avoid this issue, you can consume a diet high in fiber and drink plenty of water. Exercising helps with constipation as well, but if none of these solutions work, you may need to take a stool softener.
Special Precautions For Disposing Fentanyl
You have to take special precautions when disposing of your fentanyl patches because animals, children, or anyone who doesn’t take the medication could come in contact with the patch and suffer from serious consequences, possibly death. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises people to fold the used patches in half by adhering the sticky sides to one another. You should then flush them down the toilet. Although the FDA understands the risks, they feel the benefits of disposing the drug this way would outweigh the risks. If you no longer need the medication, you should contact your physician regarding how to properly dispose of unused patches. One possible option is to find a drug take-back program in your area.
Possibility Of Overdosing On Fentanyl
Overdosing on fentanyl is possible because of how potent of a narcotic it is. Your physician should prescribe the lowest dosage possible to reduce your risk. You must take precaution to prevent an overdose, as well. For instance, you should never use other narcotics, benzodiazepines, or alcohol while using this drug because it increases your risk of an overdose. Always make sure you remove one patch before putting another one on because the old one still does have some active medication in it. If the dosage is too strong for you or you don’t use the patch properly, you could start feeling unusually dizzy, lightheaded, or extremely sleepy. You might have slowed breathing or become unconscious. Other possible signs of an overdose include:
Fentanyl can lead to a serious, possibly life-threatening, overdose as a result of its effect on your heart rate and breathing.
Complications In Those With Health Problems
If you have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or another breathing issue, you can’t take the medication because it can slow your breathing too much. Typically, if you have kidney or liver disease, your doctor may not prescribe it to you. You can’t use a fentanyl patch if you’re pregnant. If you use fentanyl while you’re pregnant, your baby may suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms at birth, such as:
Fentanyl interacts with many other drugs, so your doctor may need to adjust your other medications before you can safely use it.
Dangers To Other People And Pets
During the entire time you’re taking these patches, you must keep them in a safe place, so children and pets can’t reach them. In fact, anybody who doesn’t use them regularly shouldn’t touch them. While you’re using them, you should count them regularly to ensure nobody is taking them.
Possibility Of Addiction To Fentanyl
You can’t just stop taking the drug whenever you want. It’s a highly addictive substance that causes withdrawal within 12 to 30 hours after you remove the patch. To safely stop using this drug, your doctor prescribes a taper, meaning he or she decreases the dosage gradually. If you do experience withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl patches, you might suffer from any of the following:
Talking To Your Doctor About A Fentanyl Prescription
If your current opiate prescription, or prescriptions, aren’t adequately reducing your pain, you may want to consult with your physician about the fentanyl patch. Your physician will determine if fentanyl is right for you based on your level of pain and health. Your primary care physician also takes into consideration the dosages and types of pain relief you used in the past because if you don’t have a tolerance for opioids, these transdermal patches could lead to a dangerous overdose. Fentanyl is an effective way to alleviate severe pain. It’s available in various forms, including lozenges, patches, and even oral tablets. However, a fentanyl patch has numerous benefits when compared to other options, such as alleviating the need to remember to take medication multiple times per day.