Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug that is used for legitimate therapeutic purposes. Additionally, fentanyl has become a primary drug that is being widely utilized illegally in California and across the United States.

How Is Fentanyl Used in a Medical Setting?

In a medical setting, fentanyl is used as a painkiller in limited circumstances:

  • Fentanyl is prescribed when a patient experiences severe, acute pain in situations involving such diagnoses as incurable cancer and other terminal illnesses or diseases.
  • Fentanyl is considered a painkiller of last resort when other options have failed to provide a patient relief from persistent pain.
  • Fentanyl is not ideally suited to manage chronic pain that is expected to persist for an extended period of time, particularly if all other options have yet to be explored. This is the case because fentanyl is a potentially hazardous medication and it is highly addictive. 

What Are Fentanyl Brand Names?

Fentanyl is marketed under a number of different brand names. Some of the most widely used brand names for fentanyl are:

  • Subsys
  • Duragesic
  • Sublimaze
  • Abstral
  • Fentora
  • Lazanda
  • Ionsys
  • Onsolis
  • Actiq
  • Fentanyl Citrate
  • Novaplus
  • Fentanyl Transdermal System Novaplus
  • Duragestic Mat

Knowing the trade or brand names of fentanyl medications is important. By being aware of these brand names, a person is in a better position to appreciate when a medication containing fentanyl is being discussed.

What Is a Fentanyl Patch?

A fentanyl patch is a common method for delivering this painkiller to a patient. Technically, this type of delivery system is called a transdermal patch. In simple terms, a fentanyl patch is placed on a person’s skin. The patch then works to deliver the medication to a patient in a consistent, safe manner. A typical fentanyl patch lasts about three days before it needs to be replaced. 

When Is Fentanyl Not Recommended for a Patient?

As is the case with any medication, there are specific situations in which fentanyl should not be used to treat a patient. The most common reasons that indicate fentanyl should not be used are when a person has one or another of these conditions:

  • Severe asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Other breathing issues or problems
  • Stomach obstruction
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Urination problems
  • Heady injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Seizure disorder
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Pancreas problems
  • Thyroid problems
  • Mental illness
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction

What Are Common Fentanyl Side Effects?

When fentanyl is being used as a painkiller, a patient may experience one or another of these relatively common side effects:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Itching (at patch site)
  • Redness (at patch site)
  • Rash (at patch site)
  • Insomnia
  • Increased sweating
  • Cold feeling

When Should a Person Seek Medical Attention for Fentanyl Side Effects?

A person taking fentanyl for the treatment of severe pain needs to maintain consistent, constant, and close contact with his or her treating physician. There are certain side effects that demand immediate medical attention. If a person is using a fentanyl patch and starts to experience one or another of these symptoms (or multiple symptoms), the patch needs to be removed immediately. 

Seek immediate medical attention if one of these side effects occurs:

  • Slow heart rate
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Weak or shallow breathing
  • Breathing that stops during sleep
  • Confusion
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Feeling like you might pass out

Low cortisol levels are potentially dangerous side effects of fentanyl use. If this occurs or is suspected, immediate medical attention is necessary. Signs of low cortisol levels include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Worsening tiredness
  • Worsening weakness

How Prevalent Is the Illegal Use of Fentanyl?

The illegal use of fentanyl has reached the level that it is considered a major health crisis in the United States. There are certain parts of the country in which the illegal use of fentanyl is more prevalent. With that said, no part of the nation has been spared from the fentanyl scourge, including the state of California. 

How Does the Illegal Use of Fentanyl Occur?

There appear to be a number of primary pathways to the illegal use of fentanyl:

  • The illegal use of fentanyl occurs in some situations in which a doctor discontinues a patient’s lawful prescription for the medication. A person who had been taking fentanyl elects to obtain the drug through illegal means.
  • In other situations, a person who has not received fentanyl for medical purposes seeks out the drug through illegal channels.
  • Some people are introduced to fentanyl when it is mixed into (or used to cut) another drug like heroin or cocaine. A person may or may not know that this is occurring.
  • Finally, a person may think he or she is buying heroin from a dealer. In fact, a dealer sells a user fentanyl under the guise that it is heroin. A dealer does this because fentanyl is notably cheaper than heroin. A dealer makes more money by employing this very dangerous bait and switch. 

How Common Is Fentanyl Overdose?

Fentanyl overdose is very common in this day and age. Hundreds of people overdose from the use of fentanyl, particularly people who are using the drug illegally. 

What Is the Frequency of Fentanyl Fatal Overdoses?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 31,000 people died from synthetic opioid overdose in 2018 (the last year a full set of data is available). The vast majority of these deaths involved fentanyl. 

What Should a Person Do Who Comes Into Contact With Fentanyl?

If you come into contact (or suspect you’ve come into contact) with fentanyl, seek medical assistance immediately. Contact with fentanyl includes the drug touching your skin in some manner. Fentanyl can easily and quickly be absorbed through your skin. Overdose can occur in very little time. 

If a person is exposed to fentanyl inadvertently, a dosage of a medication known as naloxone may be necessary. Naloxone stops the effects of an opioid drug, preventing a person from experiencing a dangerous and even fatal overdose. The use of naloxone does not negate the need to seek immediate medical attention.