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What Are Fentanyl Patches?

By Drue Tibbits
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fentanyl patches are a pain medication delivery system. They are self-adhesive patches that are applied to the skin to deliver a constant supply of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a strong narcotic pain reliever. It is a synthetic opioid that blocks pain signals by binding to the body’s opioid receptors. The patches are used to control chronic or long-term pain.

This medication can cause side effects including headaches, diarrhea, and sleeplessness. It can also cause constipation, dry mouth, and dizziness. Fentanyl patches are usually prescribed only to patients whose pain cannot be controlled by other pain medications. The powerful medication in the patches can cause serious side effects to patients who have not previously taken opioids for pain relief. Patients should be on a regular regimen of opioids before beginning fentanyl therapy.

Like most opioids, fentanyl can be addictive. It is much stronger than morphine, and the abrupt discontinuation of fentanyl therapy can result in typical withdrawal behavior. Fentanyl can cause fatal breathing irregularities. Patients with existing breathing problems or those already taking medication that depresses breathing should not use the patches. Patients should abstain from drinking alcohol while using them too.

The fentanyl patches come in various sizes that deliver different dosages of the pain medication. In some cases, multiple patches can be used at the same time. Before applying the patches, the skin should be washed with water and dried. The area should not be shaved, as shaving razors can irritate the skin and allow the fentanyl to absorb too quickly. Any excess hair should be removed by cutting it with scissors.

Once the skin is cleaned and prepared, the protective liner is removed from the patch. The adhesive side of the patch is applied to the skin. The outer edges of the patch can be taped in place, if necessary, but the body of the patch should never be covered with tape. Patients should avoid heat sources, such as sunlight and heating pads, while wearing fentanyl patches as heat can cause accelerated release and absorption of the fentanyl.

It takes 8 to 10 hours for the fentanyl in the patch to absorb into the bloodstream. The patches can be worn for up to 72 hours before they are replaced. Several factors affect the rate of absorption. The patient's body temperature, the degree of body fat, and the placement location of the patch all determine how fast the fentanyl is absorbed.

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