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The Fentanyl Patch: Does It Help with Addiction?

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

February 18, 2019

The fentanyl patch does not help with addiction; in fact, it can cause it. A formal treatment program may be needed to help overcome fentanyl addiction.

Fentanyl patches are typically prescribed to alleviate severe or chronic pain. They are often given to people who need 24-7 pain management and cannot tolerate or be treated with other pain medications. Fentanyl is also used for pain after surgery or during cancer treatment.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. The brand name for the fentanyl patch is Duragesic and was first introduced in the 1900s.

The fentanyl patch works by slowly releasing the drug into the system. The effects of the patch can be felt for up to three days, after which the patch would need to be changed.

Because of the large amount of narcotic in the fentanyl patch, this drug has been used by those with an opioid use disorder.

Does The Fentanyl Patch Help With Addiction?

In short, no, the fentanyl patch does not help with addiction. If anything, it worsens it.

Since 2015, reports of fentanyl abuse have steadily increased. It’s also been reported that opioid-related deaths have risen due to the increased popularity of fentanyl abuse.

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Like other opioids, fentanyl has a high risk for abuse and addiction regardless of how it is administered. As a result, using the fentanyl patch to treat an opioid addiction can end up causing a person to become addicted to fentanyl and put them at risk for serious side effects.

How Does The Fentanyl Patch Work?

Like other opioids, the fentanyl patch works by blocking the pain receptors in the brain. It also increases feelings of euphoria by increasing the production of dopamine.

Transdermal fentanyl patches are typically applied to the skin every 72 hours. The fentanyl builds up in the skin and then is released into the body slowly to provide long-lasting pain relief.

Side Effects Of The Fentanyl Patch

As with other opioid pain relievers, the fentanyl patch can produce a number of side effects ranging from mild to severe. Those who do not have a tolerance to opioids are at a higher risk for side effects.

Side effects of the fentanyl patch include:

  • mood changes
  • drowsiness
  • headache
  • depression
  • trouble falling or staying asleep
  • numbness or pain in the extremities
  • trouble urinating
  • upset stomach
  • itching
  • skin irritation at the location of the patch
  • shaking
  • dry mouth
  • back pain
  • sensitivity to cold

More severe side effects can also occur when using the fentanyl patch and may include:

  • rash
  • hives
  • seizures
  • chest pain
  • weakness or dizziness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • sexual dysfunction
  • body swelling
  • trouble swallowing or breathing
  • difficulty speaking
  • irregular menstruation

If you experience any of these side effects, it’s important to speak with your doctor or seek medical treatment immediately.

Someone with little to no tolerance to opioids should not use the fentanyl patch. Doing so can put the person at an increased risk of dangerous side effects and overdose.

Fentanyl Patch Abuse

While some people believe that the fentanyl patch cannot be abused due to its controlled release, this is certainly not true. The fentanyl patch can be abused just like any other form of the drug.

The fentanyl patch contains a gel-like substance that releases the fentanyl into the skin over a period of time. Those who abuse fentanyl patches can remove the gel and use the 72-hour dosage at once.

The following are other ways the fentanyl patch is abused:

Chewing

People can orally ingest the fentanyl by chewing on the patch. Chewing breaks down the layers of the patch, resulting in the release of the substance at once. When chewed, fentanyl is immediately absorbed by the mouth’s mucous membranes, causing a quick and intense fentanyl high.

Using more than one patch

Putting multiple patches on the skin can also be a means to abuse the drug. More than one patch will result in a higher quantity of the drug to be released into and absorbed by the body. Abusing the fentanyl patch this way can cause side effects of the drug to be felt for a longer period of time.

Injecting The Gel

Some people remove the gel from the fentanyl patch and mix, heat, or melt it and inject it intravenously. This provides a rapid high and can result in overdose.

Smoking The Gel

Similar to injecting the gel, some people remove the gel, heat it to produce a vapor, and smoke it. Smoking fentanyl allows the substance to be absorbed into the membranes of the lungs and quickly enter the bloodstream.

Boiling And Drinking The Gel

Steeping or boiling the patches in hot water is another way to abuse the fentanyl patch. The gel containing the fentanyl is absorbed into the water and creates a tea-like drink in which to consume the drug. This form of fentanyl abuse can take longer to absorb into the body than injecting, smoking, or snorting the drug, but is still dangerous.

Snorting The Gel

While uncommon, the gel from the fentanyl patch can be removed and snorted. Some people dissolve it with a liquid to create a powder and then snort the drug.

Fentanyl Patch Abuse Side Effects And Overdose

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful narcotic and is much more intense and dangerous than many other related drugs on the market. Abusing fentanyl in any form can put people at a high risk of severe side effects and overdose.

Abusing the fentanyl patch may cause side effects such as:

  • seizures
  • dizziness
  • constipation
  • itching
  • depressed breathing
  • blurred vision

The more fentanyl a person takes, the more likely it is that he or she will overdose. Overdose can also happen after only one use. Whereas other narcotics tend to show gradual signs of overdose, fentanyl can result in a quick overdose with little side effects beforehand.

Signs of a fentanyl overdose may include:

  • trouble breathing
  • memory or cognition problems
  • loss of coordination
  • inability to walk
  • contracted pupils
  • confusion
  • extreme sleepiness
  • coma
  • death

If you suspect someone is suffering from a fentanyl overdose, it’s important to get immediate emergency medical help. A fentanyl overdose can not only be dangerous but deadly.

Getting Help For Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction

Stopping fentanyl can be a difficult process to go through alone. Getting professional help can provide the support and treatment needed to overcome a fentanyl addiction.

While rarely dangerous, stopping fentanyl use can cause a number of uncomfortable and possibly severe side effects. These can range from agitation and chills to excessive sweating. A medically monitored detox program can provide medical support and comfort throughout the withdrawal process.

A medically supervised detox program is rarely where treatment for fentanyl addiction stops. Individuals who are physically and mentally dependent on the drug will likely need a formal treatment program to successfully overcome fentanyl addiction.

An inpatient treatment program may be recommended for someone with an addiction to fentanyl. These programs provide daily intensive treatment that is often personalized to meet the specific needs and condition of each person.

To learn more about the fentanyl patch and treatment options available for fentanyl addiction, call us today.

MedlinePlus - Fentanyl Transdermal Patch

Everyday Health - What Is Fentanyl (Duragesic)?

Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology - The Fentanyl Patch Boil‐Up – A Novel Method of Opioid Abuse

VeryWell Mind - Fentanyl Pain Patch Abuse Can Be Deadly

Journal of Analytical Toxicology - Potential Biomarkers of Smoked Fentanyl Utilizing Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry

News Medical Life Sciences - Fentanyl Illicit Use

Duragesic - What is DURAGESIC?

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