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What Are The Risks Of A Fentanyl Patch?

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Last Medical Reviewer On: August 14, 2023
Updated On: Aug 14, 2023
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

Risks Of Fentanyl Patch
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    What you will learn
    • Fentanyl patches are typically the form of fentanyl prescribed by doctors for prolonged use.
    • There are many ways that fentanyl patches may be abused by those that have access to them.
    • Fentanyl patches last longer than pill form fentanyl.
      Side effects can be felt by those that use the fentanyl patch.
    • Fentanyl is a highly addictive opioid drug that requires professional addiction treatment to overcome.

    Like all drugs, fentanyl patches carry many risks if they are misused. The way they work can affect other drugs in the system, which poses significant interaction risks. There have been cases of death when there is accidental exposure to the used patch and because the patch was being misused. Fentanyl patches also pose a high risk for addiction.

    What Is A Fentanyl Patch?

    A fentanyl patch is a transdermal patch that is placed on the skin and administers a steady flow of the drug into the bloodstream. There are other forms of medication patches, such as nicotine patches, which help those who are addicted to smoking quit, and scopolamine patches, which assist with motion sickness.

    It takes 24-72 hours for a fentanyl patch to reach a steady state of administering the drug into the body’s system.[1] Through residual fentanyl on the skin, the body will continue to absorb the drug for hours. Once the user removes the patch, fentanyl levels in the blood will drop by 50% over the next 17 hours.

    The rate at which the drug is absorbed into the body depends on how much blood flow is going through the user’s system. This absorption rate can be increased if someone is in a humid, hot environment, under a heating blanket, or has a fever. This can easily cause the drug to move through the system faster, which may result in additional problems.

    What Are Fentanyl Patches Used For?

    Most of the time, when someone has fentanyl patches, it is because they have been prescribed them by a physician or medical professional. Fentanyl patches are not common forms of fentanyl acquired as a street drug. The amount of the drug in the patch has to be very carefully prescribed in order to prevent an overdose.

    Pain Relief

    Fentanyl patches are specifically used for those with chronic pain or who are suffering from a terminal illness. They are beneficial when someone is not able to tolerate high doses of opioids taken orally.

    Since they are continuously administering the medication, they can last longer than other forms of fentanyl. They are designed to work best for patients who have a high tolerance to opioids

    How Are Fentanyl Patches Abused?

    There are various ways that fentanyl patches can be abused. Some may remove the gel containing fentanyl and ingest the entire supply of the drug all at one time. Others will inhale it, apply multiple patches at once, or take patches or medications that don’t belong to them. This will usually result in a euphoric high and can lead to an overdose.

    One specific incident involved a female who steeped the fentanyl patch like a tea bag and drank the liquid. Ths resulted in hypoventilation and a coma.[2]

    How Long Do Fentanyl Patches Last?

    Fentanyl patches constantly release fentanyl into the bloodstream when they’re applied. This will provide pain relief for many hours. In a hospital setting, patches are replaced every 3 days. During this time, the full dose has been administered and ceases to be effective.

    Side Effects and Risks Of Fentanyl Patches


    Risks Of Fentanyl Patch


    The side effects of using this form of fentanyl are similar to taking the drug orally. Some effects may be severe. Always check in with the physician or medical professional if any of these symptoms begin to present.

    Some side effects include:

    • Back pain
    • Headache
    • Skin problems where the patch was worn, such as redness, irritation, itching, or swelling
    • Mood changes
    • Stomach pain
    • Feeling cold
    • Difficulty urinating
    • Numbness, pain, tingling, or burning in the feet or hands
    • Dry mouth
    • Drowsiness
    • Itching
    • Depression
    • Indigestion

    There are many risks to fentanyl patches, including death if they are misused. Fentanyl is a powerful drug, more powerful than morphine. If it is not used correctly or disposed of properly, dangerous consequences may occur.

    Accidental Exposure

    After fentanyl patches are worn, they may retain the initial potency of the drug by up to 28% – 84%.[3] If these patches are not disposed of properly, accidental exposure may lead to an overdose in people who are not used to being on heavy narcotics.

    Over Sedation

    Patients using patch fentanyl are at a higher risk of oversedation when the patch is removed. This happens when other drugs are taken after the patch is taken off because the fentanyl will still be absorbed into the bloodstream.

    Signs Of A Fentanyl Overdose

    Knowing the signs of a fentanyl overdose can help prevent fatality and serious side effects.

    Signs of Overdose include:

    • Limp body
    • Weak, slow, or no breathing
    • “Pinpoint pupils,” which are small, constricted pupils
    • Clammy and/or cold skin
    • Losing consciousness or falling asleep
    • Gurgling or choking sounds
    • Discolored skin on the nails and lips

    How To Prevent An Overdose

    If an overdose is suspected, do not leave that person alone. Immediately call 911 or seek medical attention quickly. If available, administer naloxone. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of a fentanyl overdose.

    Once the naloxone has been administered, keep the person breathing and awake. Then lay them on their side to prevent choking. This should help wait out the time it will take for medical professionals to arrive.

    Withdrawal Symptoms From Fentanyl Patches

    Withdrawal symptoms can occur when the fentanyl patches are changed out. Typically, this has been seen on the 3rd day of using the same patch. Withdrawal symptoms can cause many problems for the individual taking the drug.

    Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl patches include:

    • Anxiety
    • Profuse sweating
    • Distress
    • General malaise
    • Sweating
    • Agitation
    • Tremors
    • Palpitations
    • Insomnia

    Treatment For Fentanyl Addiction and Substance Use Disorder

    In most cases, fentanyl is obtained illegally and can quickly lead to dependence and addiction. Working closely with a doctor or treatment team will help patients address substance use and be equipped to safely navigate a healthier life.

    Treatment options for fentanyl addiction include:

    If someone is suffering from mental health issues while going through treatment, they will likely be recommended to partake in therapy sessions as well.

    Fentanyl patches can be a dangerous substance if they are not used the way they are prescribed. Risks of exposure and accidental overdose are common when handling these kinds of drugs.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Fentanyl Patches

    What are the benefits of fentanyl patches?
    What are the disadvantages of fentanyl patches?
    What do fentanyl patches look like?

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