What Is Fentanyl?

Posted
by Jim Orr

Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller that is used to treat patients with severe, around-the-clock pain who have developed a tolerance to other opioid medications due to prolonged treatment. Fentanyl was first synthesized in a laboratory in 1960 and went on sale in the U.S. for the first time during the mid-1990s in the form of a transdermal patch marketed under the brand name Duragesic.

The Food and Drug Administration has advised that fentanyl should only be used with opioid-tolerant patients because of the extreme potency of the drug. Fentanyl is approximately 80-100 times more powerful than morphine and about 40-50 times more powerful than pharmaceutical grade heroin. Because of its extreme potency, exposure to even a small amount of the fentanyl gel inside a pain patch can be deadly.

Although for many years fentanyl was generally prescribed to patients in the form of a pain patch worn on the skin, in recent years, fentanyl has been prescribed in the form of new delivery methods developed by the pharmaceutical industry. These new products include the fentanyl lollipop (Actiq), fentanyl nasal spray (Lazanda), fentanyl sublingual tablets (Abstral), fentanyl sublingual spray (Subsys), and the fentanyl transdermal pump (Ionsys). Fentanyl can also be administered to patients in a hospital setting through intravenous injection during anesthesia or for procedural sedation.

Because of its extreme potency, the administration and prescription of fentanyl must be tightly monitored to limit the risk of an overdose. In addition to restricting the use of fentanyl only to opioid-tolerant patients, doctors and medical staff must also take care that fentanyl is never prescribed in combination with other medications can could depress the central nervous system. Interaction between fentanyl and other CNS-depressant drugs can cause respiratory depression as a result of a combined drug overdose, which can be fatal.

Patients must also take care when disposing of the fentanyl patch or other fentanyl product in the home to ensure that children are not accidentally exposed to the medication. Again, due to its extreme potency, even a small level exposure is enough to produce fentanyl toxicity in children. Several children have died in recent years as a result of accidental exposure to fentanyl patches or other products that were improperly disposed of by their caretakers. Fentanyl patch users must also take care while holding a child to prevent accidental exposure to the patch through skin-to-skin contact.

FDA Warnings About Fentanyl Products

Since the Duragesic patch was first approved for sale by the FDA in the mid-1990s, the agency has issued at least six safety recalls for the fentanyl pain patch involving manufacturing defects that could lead to an accidental overdose. In 2007, the agency issue a warning to health care providers about the risk of a fatal overdose that could result from prescribing fentanyl to patients experiencing post-surgical pain, patients with only mild pain levels, or patients who are not opioid-tolerant. The FDA has also issued a warning to fentanyl patients about proper use and disposal of the fentanyl patch in order to prevent accidental overdoses with small children.

These problems have prompted the FDA to issue several updated warning labels for the fentanyl pain patch and other fentanyl products, including new information about the overdose risks associated with fentanyl. The agency also called for new warning labels printed in bright, long-lasting ink to make sure that fentanyl products are more easily visible to patients and caregivers.

Fentanyl Lawsuits Filed By Families on Behalf of Overdose Victims

Sadly, these precautions have been unable to prevent hundreds of deaths that are caused each year by fentanyl overdoses. Many of these fatal overdoses were caused by fentanyl prescriptions issued for reasons not approved by the FDA, including prescriptions to patients who are not opioid-tolerant, patients with only mild or moderate pain, or patients who were taking other medications that could interact with fentanyl. In other cases, fentanyl overdoses have been linked to manufacturing defects with the pain patch that caused patients to be exposed to high doses of the fentanyl gel inside the patch.

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers of the fentanyl pain patch and other fentanyl products on behalf of patients who died as a result of an overdose. Many lawsuits have also been filed against doctors, hospitals, or medical staff who improperly administered fentanyl products to their patients, including fentanyl prescriptions that were administered in combinations with other CNS-depressant medications.

Loved One Injured By Fentanyl? You May Qualify to File a Lawsuit.

If your loved one has been a victim of an accidental overdose caused by the fentanyl pain patch or other fentanyl products, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer, as well as the doctor or hospital that prescribed the drug. The first step in filing a fentanyl lawsuit is to speak to a law firm whose attorneys have the training and experience to handle your case and help you to attain the best possible result for your loved one.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has filed more lawsuits on behalf of victims of fentanyl overdose than all other law firms in the country combined. In the very first jury trial filed by our attorneys against a fentanyl patch manufacturer, a jury awarded a $5.5 million verdict to the family of a Florida man who died while wearing a fentanyl pain patch sold under the brand name Duragesic. More recently, our firm obtained a $16,560,000 judgment against two subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson on behalf of the family of an Illinois woman who died while wearing a fentanyl pain patch.

During the hundreds of fentanyl lawsuits filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson, our attorneys interviewed numerous drug company executives and other employees, retained expert witnesses with extensive knowledge regarding the side effects of fentanyl, and amassed millions of pages of documents from the drug companies about the fentanyl pain patch. Through these efforts, we have compiled the most extensive library and collection of documents and depositions related to fentanyl patches in existence—a database that, in many ways, is more extensive than anything held by the same drug companies that manufactured fentanyl.

For more information about fentanyl lawsuits and to find out whether you may be eligible to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling our law firm toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also contact us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions about your case to get started.