Fentanyl (Page 2 of 12)



Fentanyl is an opioid analgesic. Fentanyl interacts predominately with the opioid mu-receptor. These mu-binding sites are discretely distributed in the human brain, spinal cord, and other tissues. In clinical settings, fentanyl exerts its principal pharmacologic effects on the central nervous system.

In addition to analgesia, alterations in mood, euphoria, dysphoria, and drowsiness commonly occur. Fentanyl depresses the respiratory centers, depresses the cough reflex, and constricts the pupils. Analgesic blood concentrations of fentanyl may cause nausea and vomiting directly by stimulating the chemoreceptor trigger zone, but nausea and vomiting are significantly more common in ambulatory than in recumbent patients, as is postural syncope.

Opioids increase the tone and decrease the propulsive contractions of the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal tract. The resultant prolongation in gastrointestinal transit time may be responsible for the constipating effect of fentanyl. Because opioids may increase biliary tract pressure, some patients with biliary colic may experience worsening rather than relief of pain.

While opioids generally increase the tone of urinary tract smooth muscle, the net effect tends to be variable, in some cases producing urinary urgency, in others, difficulty in urination. At therapeutic dosages, fentanyl usually does not exert major effects on the cardiovascular system. However, some patients may exhibit orthostatic hypotension and fainting.

Histamine assays and skin wheal testing in clinical studies indicate that clinically significant histamine release rarely occurs with fentanyl administration. Clinical assays show no clinically significant histamine release in dosages up to 50 mcg/kg.


(see graph and tables)

The fentanyl transdermal system is a drug-in-adhesive matrix designed formulation. Fentanyl is released from the matrix at a nearly constant amount per unit time. The concentration gradient existing between the matrix and the lower concentration in the skin drives drug release. Fentanyl moves in the direction of the lower concentration at a rate determined by the matrix and the diffusion of fentanyl through the skin layers. While the actual rate of fentanyl delivery to the skin varies over the 72-hour application period, each system is labeled with a nominal flux which represents the average amount of drug delivered to the systemic circulation per hour across average skin.

While there is variation in dose delivered among patients, the nominal flux of the systems (12.5, 25, 50, 75, and 100 mcg of fentanyl per hour) is sufficiently accurate as to allow individual titration of dosage for a given patient.

Following fentanyl transdermal system application, the skin under the system absorbs fentanyl, and a depot of fentanyl concentrates in the upper skin layers. Fentanyl then becomes available to the systemic circulation. Serum fentanyl concentrations increase gradually following initial fentanyl transdermal system application, generally leveling off between 12 and 24 hours and remaining relatively constant, with some fluctuation, for the remainder of the 72-hour application period. Peak serum concentrations of fentanyl generally occurred between 20 and 72 hours after initial application (see Table A). Serum fentanyl concentrations achieved are proportional to the fentanyl transdermal system delivery rate. With continuous use, serum fentanyl concentrations continue to rise for the first two system applications. By the end of the second 72-hour application, a steady-state serum concentration is reached and is maintained during subsequent applications of a patch of the same size. Patients reach and maintain a steady-state serum concentration that is determined by individual variation in skin permeability and body clearance of fentanyl.

After system removal, serum fentanyl concentrations decline gradually, falling about 50% in approximately 20–27 hours. Continued absorption of fentanyl from the skin accounts for a slower disappearance of the drug from the serum than is seen after an IV infusion, where the apparent half-life is approximately 7 (range 3–12) hours.

Serum Fentanyl Concentrations Following Single and Multiple Applications of Fentanyl Transdermal System 100 mcg/h
(click image for full-size original)
Mean (SD) Time to Maximal Concentration Tmax (h)Mean (SD) Maximal Concentration Cmax (ng/mL)
NOTE: After system removal there is continued systemic absorption from residual fentanyl in the skin so that serum concentrations fall 50%, on average, in approximately 20–27 hours.
Cmax values dose normalized from 4 × 12.5 mcg/h
Fentanyl Transdermal System 12 mcg/h28.8 (13.7)0.38 (0.13)*
Fentanyl Transdermal System 25 mcg/h31.7 (16.5)0.85 (0.26)
Fentanyl Transdermal System 50 mcg/h32.8 (15.6)1.72 (0.53)
Fentanyl Transdermal System 75 mcg/h35.8 (14.1)2.32 (0.86)
Fentanyl Transdermal System 100 mcg/h29.9 (13.3)3.36 (1.28)
Clearance (L/h) Range [70 kg]Volume of Distribution VSS (L/kg) RangeHalf-Life t1/2 (h) Range
NOTE: Information on volume of distribution and half-life not available for renally impaired patients.
Surgical Patients27 – 753 – 83 – 12
Hepatically Impaired Patients3 – 80*0.8 – 8*4 – 12*
Renally Impaired Patients30 – 78

Fentanyl plasma protein binding capacity decreases with increasing ionization of the drug. Alterations in pH may affect its distribution between plasma and the central nervous system. Fentanyl accumulates in the skeletal muscle and fat and is released slowly into the blood. The average volume of distribution for fentanyl is 6 L/kg (range 3–8; N=8).

Fentanyl is metabolized primarily via human cytochrome P450 3A4 isoenzyme system. In humans, the drug appears to be metabolized primarily by oxidative N-dealkylation to norfentanyl and other inactive metabolites that do not contribute materially to the observed activity of the drug. Within 72 hours of IV fentanyl administration, approximately 75% of the dose is excreted in urine, mostly as metabolites with less than 10% representing unchanged drug. Approximately 9% of the dose is recovered in the feces, primarily as metabolites. Mean values for unbound fractions of fentanyl in plasma are estimated to be between 13 and 21%.

Skin does not appear to metabolize fentanyl delivered transdermally. This was determined in a human keratinocyte cell assay and in clinical studies in which 92% of the dose delivered from the system was accounted for as unchanged fentanyl that appeared in the systemic circulation.

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