Fentanyl (Page 8 of 12)


Clinical Presentation

The manifestations of fentanyl overdosage are an extension of its pharmacologic actions with the most serious significant effect being hypoventilation.


For the management of hypoventilation, immediate countermeasures include removing the fentanyl transdermal system system and physically or verbally stimulating the patient. These actions can be followed by administration of a specific narcotic antagonist such as naloxone. The duration of hypoventilation following an overdose may be longer than the effects of the narcotic antagonist’s action (the half-life of naloxone ranges from 30 to 81 minutes). The interval between IV antagonist doses should be carefully chosen because of the possibility of re-narcotization after system removal; repeated administration of naloxone may be necessary. Reversal of the narcotic effect may result in acute onset of pain and the release of catecholamines.

Always ensure a patent airway is established and maintained, administer oxygen and assist or control respiration as indicated and use an oropharyngeal airway or endotracheal tube if necessary. Adequate body temperature and fluid intake should be maintained.

If severe or persistent hypotension occurs, the possibility of hypovolemia should be considered and managed with appropriate parenteral fluid therapy.


Special Precautions

Fentanyl transdermal system contains a high concentration of a potent Schedule II opioid agonist, fentanyl. Schedule II opioid substances which include fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone have the highest potential for abuse and associated risk of fatal overdose due to respiratory depression. Fentanyl can be abused and is subject to criminal diversion. The high content of fentanyl in the patches (fentanyl transdermal system) may be a particular target for abuse and diversion.

Fentanyl transdermal system patches are intended for transdermal use (on intact skin) only. The fentanyl transdermal system patch should not be used if the pouch seal is broken, or the patch is cut, damaged, or changed in any way .

Each fentanyl transdermal system patch may be worn continuously for 72 hours. The next patch should be applied to a different skin site after removal of the previous transdermal system.

If problems with adhesion of the fentanyl transdermal system patch occur, the edges of the patch may be taped with first aid tape. If problems with adhesion persist, the patch may be overlayed with a transparent adhesive film dressing (e.g., Bioclusive™ or Tegaderm™).

If the patch falls off before 72 hours, dispose of it by folding in half and flushing down the toilet. A new patch may be applied to a different skin site.

Fentanyl transdermal system is ONLY for use in patients who are already tolerant to opioid therapy of comparable potency. Use in non-opioid tolerant patients may lead to fatal respiratory depression. Overestimating the fentanyl transdermal system dose when converting patients from another opioid medication can result in fatal overdose with the first dose. Due to the mean half-life of approximately 20‑27 hours, patients who are thought to have had a serious adverse event, including overdose, will require monitoring and treatment for at least 24 hours.

The concomitant use of fentanyl transdermal system with all cytochrome P450 3A4 inhibitors (such as ritonavir, ketoconazole, itraconazole, troleandomycin, clarithromycin, nelfinavir, nefazodone, amiodarone, amprenavir, aprepitant, diltiazem, erythromycin, fluconazole, fosamprenavir, grapefruit juice, and verapamil) may result in an increase in fentanyl plasma concentrations, which could increase or prolong adverse drug effects and may cause potentially fatal respiratory depression. Patients receiving fentanyl transdermal system and any CYP3A4 inhibitor should be carefully monitored for an extended period of time and dosage adjustments should be made if warranted (see BOX WARNING, CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY – Drug Interactions, WARNINGS, and PRECAUTIONS for further information).

Pediatric patients converting to fentanyl transdermal system with a 25 mcg/h patch should be opioid-tolerant and receiving at least 60 mg of oral morphine or the equivalent per day. The dose conversion schedule described in Table C, and method of titration described below are recommended in opioid-tolerant pediatric patients over 2 years of age with chronic pain (see PRECAUTIONS – Pediatric Use).

Respiratory depression is the chief hazard in elderly or debilitated patients, usually following large initial doses in non-tolerant patients, or when opioids are given in conjunction with other agents that depress respiration.

Fentanyl transdermal system should be used with caution in elderly, cachectic, or debilitated patients as they may have altered pharmacokinetics due to poor fat stores, muscle wasting, or altered clearance (see CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY – Special Populations, Geriatric Use).

General Principles

Fentanyl transdermal system is indicated for management of persistent, moderate to severe chronic pain that:

  • requires continuous, around-the-clock opioid administration for an extended period of time
  • cannot be managed by other means such as non-steroidal analgesics, opioid combination products, or immediate-release opioids.

Fentanyl transdermal system should ONLY be used in patients who are already receiving opioid therapy, who have demonstrated opioid tolerance, and who require a total daily dose at least equivalent to fentanyl transdermal system 25 mcg/h. Patients who are considered opioid-tolerant are those who have been taking, for a week or longer, at least 60 mg of morphine daily, or at least 30 mg of oral oxycodone daily, or at least 8 mg oral hydromorphone daily, or an equianalgesic dose of another opioid.

Because serious or life-threatening hypoventilation could occur, fentanyl transdermal system is contraindicated:

  • in patients who are not opioid-tolerant
  • in the management of acute pain or in patients who require opioid analgesia for a short period of time.
  • in the management of post-operative pain, including use after out-patient or day surgeries (e.g., tonsillectomies)
  • in the management of mild pain
  • in the management of intermittent pain (e.g., use on an as needed basis [prn])

(See CONTRAINDICATIONS for further information.)

Safety of fentanyl transdermal system has not been established in children under 2 years of age. fentanyl transdermal system should be administered to children only if they are opioid-tolerant and 2 years of age or older (see PRECAUTIONS — Pediatric Use).

Prescribers should individualize treatment using a progressive plan of pain management such as outlined by the World Health Organization, the Agency for Health Research and Quality, the Federation of State Medical Boards Model Policy, or the American Pain Society.

With all opioids, the safety of patients using the products is dependent on health care practitioners prescribing them in strict conformity with their approved labeling with respect to patient selection, dosing, and proper conditions for use.

As with all opioids, dosage should be individualized. The most important factor to be considered in determining the appropriate dose is the extent of pre-existing opioid-tolerance (see BOX WARNING and CONTRAINDICATIONS). Initial doses should be reduced in elderly or debilitated patients (see PRECAUTIONS).

Fentanyl transdermal system should be applied to intact, non-irritated, and non-irradiated skin on a flat surface such as the chest, back, flank, or upper arm. In young children and persons with cognitive impairment, adhesion should be monitored and the upper back is the preferred location to minimize the potential of inappropriate patch removal. Hair at the application site should be clipped (not shaved) prior to system application. If the site of fentanyl transdermal system application must be cleansed prior to application of the patch, do so with clear water. Do not use soaps, oils, lotions, alcohol, or any other agents that might irritate the skin or alter its characteristics. Allow the skin to dry completely prior to patch application.

Fentanyl transdermal system should be applied immediately upon removal from the sealed package. Do not use if the pouch seal is broken. Do not alter the patch (e.g., cut) in any way prior to application and do not use cut or damaged patches.

The transdermal system should be pressed firmly in place with the palm of the hand for 30 seconds, making sure the contact is complete, especially around the edges.

Fentanyl transdermal system should be kept out of the reach of children. Used patches should be folded so that the adhesive side of the patch adheres to itself, then the patch should be flushed down the toilet immediately upon removal. Patients should dispose of any patches remaining from a prescription as soon as they are no longer needed. Unused patches should be removed from their pouches, folded so that the adhesive side of the patch adheres to itself, and flushed down the toilet.

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