British official calls for restrictions on fentanyl prescriptions

by Heygood Orr and Pearson

A British health official has called for a reduction in the number of fentanyl patch prescriptions in order to reduce the chance that it may be taken illegally by drug users. Ed Freestone, the chief pharmacist for the Island of Guernsey, said that the fentanyl pain patch was frequently used by drug addicts as an alternative to heroin, and that restricting the use of the patch could help to reduce the harm caused by opioid abuse.

Fentanyl is sold in the form of a transdermal patch that is prescribed to opioid tolerant patients with severe pain, such as cancer patients. The drug is about 80 times more potent than morphine, making it a prime target for abuse by illegal opioid users who are unable to access other drugs, such as heroin.

In addition to the abuse potential of fentanyl, the drug also poses a risk of overdose to patients who take the drug correctly. Because of extreme potency, overexposure to even a small amount of fentanyl—such as through direct contact with the fentanyl gel inside the patch—can cause a patient to lapse into respiratory depression, which can be fatal.