Fentanyl is an extremely powerful painkiller that is 80 to 100 times more potent that morphine. The drug is supposed to be prescribed to patients with chronic pain (such as cancer patients) who have developed a tolerance for other opioid medications as a result of long term treatment. Patients who are prescribed the fentanyl pain patch or other fentanyl products by their doctor when they do not meet requirements for taking the drug may be at risk of suffering an overdose caused by fentanyl.
According to a Food and Drug Administration warning, fentanyl should not be prescribed to a number of patient groups due to their increased risk of suffering and overdose, including:
• Patients who have not received long-term treatment with opioid painkillers
• Patients with short term pain
• Patients with post-operative pain
• Patients with pulmonary problems or other pre-existing conditions that affects the ability to breathe
• Patients who are taking other medications that could inhibit the body’s ability to metabolize and eliminate fentanyl (e.g. itraconazole, clarithromycin)
• Patients who are taking other medications that depress the central nervous system (such as other narcotic pain medications, sleep aids, muscle relaxers, benzodiazepines)
Long acting opioids should not be used for acute pain because acute pain by its nature is not stable. If someone is in pain, that pain blocks respiratory depression. In other words, a patient can tolerate a much higher level of opioid in their system without suffering respiratory depression if they are in severe pain. However, if that pain resolves, then the opioid in their system may cause respiratory depression.
It is very dangerous to have an opioid in an acute pain patient’s system that is a sustained release or long acting opioid because the drug may be released into the blood at a time when the patient’s pain has resolved. Without the pain which had previously been preventing respiratory depression, respiratory arrest and death may occur.
Complications can also arise when fentanyl is prescribed with other drugs that depress the central nervous system. When this prescribing error occurs, patients may suffer a combined drug overdose from the interaction of fentanyl and other medications.
Fentanyl deaths are on the rise because of the irresponsible way these drugs are being administered by physicians. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid painkillers such as fentanyl were the cause of more than 15,000 deaths in 2008 alone—more than three times the number of deaths from just 10 years before.
Many families have filed wrongful death fentanyl lawsuits against doctors and hospitals who prescribed the pain patch to patients who were ineligible to use the drug under FDA guidelines. Many of the deaths caused by the fentanyl patch could have been prevented if the pain patch by physicians who failed to follow FDA warnings about safely prescribing the drug.
If you or a loved one was injured as a result of a fentanyl overdose or combined drug overdose, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to find out if you may be eligible to file a case. Our law firm has handled hundreds of cases involving patients who were injured by the fentanyl patch. With our knowledge and experience, we will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive the fullest protection of your legal rights available under the law.
For a free legal consultation about your case, contact the attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located on this page.