The fentanyl patch can be abused and misused in many ways that can bypass the time-release functions of the drug and increase the rate of addiction.
The fentanyl patch can be just as addictive as other forms of fentanyl if the drug is being misused.
Fentanyl is one of the most powerful types of opioid medications on the market today.
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It is prescribed as a lozenge, in pill form, as an injectable, and as a patch designed to help with chronic and breakthrough pain. It is around 100 times more potent than morphine. It can be synthesized in a lab, meaning that it is man-made.
The fentanyl patch, known by the brand name Duragesic, is designed to be worn on the skin to manage pain around the clock for up to 72 hours. The medication is released into the body in a controlled fashion. As a potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl is highly addictive. It makes changes to brain chemistry and structure.
Fentanyl Patches vs. Other Forms of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid drug that is a prescription pain reliever and one of the strongest opioids on the market. It can be synthesized in a lab illegally and can be lethal in doses as small as 2 mg. Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin on contact.
The fentanyl patch is designed to send small doses of the drug into the system in a time-released fashion to control breakthrough and chronic pain 24 hours a day for about three days. Fentanyl is typically used as a last resort medically for people who may already be tolerant of other opioid drugs and need something to manage significant and persistent pain.
- Lozenges (Actiq)
- Sublingual tablets (Abstral)
- Buccal tablets (Fentora)
- Film (Onsolis)
- Injection (Sublimaze)
All these forms of fentanyl contain lower doses than the patch does. The difference is that the patch is designed to dole out the dose a little at a time instead of all at once.
Fentanyl can also be made illegally in a lab and made into powder or counterfeit pills, laced into other illicit drugs, put into nasal sprays or eye droppers, or put on blotter paper, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains.
Abuse of Fentanyl Patches
The high level of fentanyl that is contained in each patch makes it a hot target for diversion and abuse, as the drug can be harvested and extracted from the patch. Fentanyl patches can be abused by chewing them, sucking on them, scraping off the gel and injecting it, heating them and inhaling the fumes, or boiling them to extract the drug.
All these methods of abuse are particularly dangerous. They send the entire dosage of the medication into the bloodstream at once instead of in a slow and controlled manner. This increases the risk of fatal overdose.
Fentanyl overdoses are escalating rapidly. In 2017, nearly 30,000 people died from an overdose involving the potent narcotic. Not only can abuse of the fentanyl patch lead to fatal overdose quickly and often unintentionally, but abuse of the medication can also increase the rate of addiction.
More than 2.5 million adults in the United States struggled with addiction involving an opioid drug in 2016. Opioid addiction is considered a public health epidemic all across America that spans all demographics, including sex, economic status, age, and race.
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The Addictive Nature of Fentanyl
Fentanyl binds to opioid receptors in the brain and works quickly to overwhelm the system. It blocks pain sensations and leads to a flood of dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced by the brain that helps to regulate emotions and can increase pleasure.
Elevated dopamine levels can create a euphoric high. This makes the drug extremely addictive. Repeated use of the drug increases the odds of addiction.
Since fentanyl is so potent, it is likely even more addictive than many other highly addictive opioid drugs. Regardless of the form of fentanyl you take, repeated use can lead to addiction.
When you take fentanyl, your brain chemistry is changed to expect the drug’s interaction. Regular changes to the chemical makeup of the brain can actually lead to structural modifications, drug tolerance, and physical dependence.
Physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms often occur when you stop taking fentanyl once dependence forms. This can be uncomfortable and very unpleasant.
The patch and all other forms of fentanyl are all addictive. Abuse of fentanyl increases the chances of addiction, as can the manner in which you take the drug. Other factors, such as genetics, biology, and environmental components, can also influence the rate of addiction.
If you wear a fentanyl patch for medical reasons and use the drug as directed, you are less likely to struggle with addiction than if you inject, smoke, or snort fentanyl. It isn’t so much the form of fentanyl you take that influences its addictive nature but how you take it.
All forms of fentanyl, including the patch then, can be equally addictive.
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(July 2018) Fentanyl. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Retrieved May 2019 from from https://www.dea.gov/galleries/drug-images/fentanyl
(August 2018) Fentanyl. U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Retrieved May 2019 from from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605043.html
(February 2019) What is Fentanyl? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved May 2019 from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
(January 2019) Overdose Death Rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved May 2019 from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
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