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Are fentanyl patches addictive?

Yes, fentanyl is an addictive substance.

In fact, fentanyl patches can be abused for euphoric effect, and cause both psychological and physical dependence. More on the addictive potential of fentanyl here, with a section at the end for your questions.

What are Fentanyl patches?

The fentanyl patch is typically sold under the brand names Duragesic or lonsys. It is a transdermal patch, meaning it is applied directly to the skin as a means of administering medication for severe or chronic pain relief.

Fentanyl itself is a narcotic analgesic, similar to but much more potent than morphine or heroin. Typically, these are only used or prescribed by a doctor when a patient has a considerable tolerance to other opiate pain relievers. The dose of fentanyl in a patch varies depending on the age, needs, and physical characteristics of each individual patient, but patches are typically applied once every 72 hours.

What Are the Effects of Fentanyl Patches?

Fentanyl patches can cause a wide range of physical effects, including but not limited to:

  • bloating of the face or extremities
  • chest pain
  • decreased amount or frequency of urination
  • difficulty speaking
  • fainting or lightheadedness
  • hallucinations
  • increased heart rate
  • mood swings or mental changes
  • problems with motor skills
  • rapid weight gain
  • redness, swelling, or skin irritation at the place of application

Can fentanyl cause overdose death? Yes. If you are using fentanyl patches and experience any of these effects, you should notify your prescribing physician immediately.

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Are Fentanyl Patches Abused?

Yes, fentanyl can get you high. In fact, this man-made opioid is rapidly becoming a “go-to” for opiate addicts looking for the next high. A 2011 case study (Guan et al.) notes several reported methods of fentanyl patch abuse to be aware of, including application of multiple patches, changing patches more frequently, injecting the gel extracted from the patches, chewing or swallowing patches, inserting patches rectally, inhaling the gel, and diluting the patch in tea. Given that the patches are designed to administer a large amount of fentanyl but spaced out over an extended time period, most of the methods of abuse place the user at an extremely high risk for overdose.

What is the Addictive Potential of Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has a high abuse potential and may lead to severe dependence. Given this classification, fentanyl is highly addictive, and is illegal to possess or use without a prescription. Beyond its impact on the dopamine system (as noted above), fentanyl is extremely potent, meaning that while it takes much smaller amounts to produce a high than with heroin or other opiates, it also takes much less to cause overdose and death.

Can You Get Addicted to Fentanyl Patches?

Yes.

You can absolutely become addicted to fentanyl patches. Like any other opiate, fentanyl is a highly addictive drug. It increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward areas of the brain, thus causing a euphoric feeling. The more fentanyl is used in pursuit of this “high”, the more physically dependent the body becomes on it, until eventually the body needs the drug to operate normally. Stopping use at this point will result in highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

What are Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal?

As with other opiates, symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • diarrhea
  • dilated pupils
  • goosebumps
  • insomnia
  • muscle aches
  • nausea
  • runny nose
  • stomach cramping
  • sweating
  • vomiting
  • yawning

These withdrawal symptoms, while unpleasant, are not directly life-threatening. However, opiate withdrawal has been known to lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

How Can I Stop Using Fentanyl Patches?

It is always recommended that you consult with a doctor before stopping use of any drug on which you are dependent. Your doctor will be able to gradually reduce your dosage, thus minimizing discomfort and risk. However, if you are using this drug illicitly, you may need professional inpatient help for your addiction.

Minimally, a detox facility will allow you to clear your system of the drug in a medically supervised environment. In some cases, Suboxone or another medication may be used to taper off of your opiate dependence. Further, you may need more extensive inpatient addiction treatment (such as a 30, 60-, or 90-day program) if you want to stop using and stay stopped. Inpatient treatment can help you address not only your addiction, but the underlying causes, and provide you with the tools for living sober.

Questions about the addictive potential of Fentanyl

Do you still have questions about the risks or benefits of using the Fentanyl patch? Please leave your questions in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to answer you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NCBI: “I Am in Pain!”—A Case Report of Illicit Use of Transdermal Fentanyl Patches
Mayo Clinic: Fentanyl (Transdermal Route)
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Fentanyl
MedlinePlus: Fentanyl Transdermal Patch

Photo credit: DailyMed

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About Heather King, PhD

Heather King, Ph.D., completed her graduate studies in preclinical substance abuse research in July of 2015. She has authored several peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals on the effects of drug abuse on the brain and behavior, and has personal experience in addiction and recovery. She currently works at Serenity Acres, a drug and alcohol treatment center outside of Annapolis, MD.

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