A new study conducted by Canadian researchers has found that nearly three-quarters of fentanyl pain patch prescriptions are issued to patients who had not previously been treated with opioid medications, putting them at risk of suffering a potentially fatal overdose. Food and Drug Administration regulations require doctors to prescribe the fentanyl patch only to patients who are opioid tolerant due to previous treatment with painkiller medications in order to reduce the risk of overdose.
Fentanyl is an extremely powerful painkiller—about 80-100 times more powerful than morphine. As a result, patients who have not already been treated with other opioid medications may be at risk of an overdose if they are prescribed fentanyl because their body has not already adjusted to opioid therapy.
Researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada found that 74.1% of fentanyl pain patches were issued to patients that had received inadequate exposure to opioid medications prior to being treated with fentanyl. The FDA says that fentanyl should only be given to patients who are opioid tolerant, which the agency defines as having received at least 60 mg of morphine, 30 mg of oxycodone, 8 mg of hydromorphone, or an equivalent dose of another opioid painkiller on a daily basis for two weeks before starting treatment with fentanyl.
The University of Manitoba researchers also found that about 20% of patients who were prescribed fentanyl were not started by their doctor on the 25-µg/h dose of fentanyl patch recommended by the FDA. Instead, many fentanyl patients were started on a dose of 50 µg/h or higher, further increasing their risk of suffering an overdose.
The authors of the fentanyl study say that when fentanyl is prescribed to opioid naïve patients, or when patients are started on a higher-than-advised dose of the pain patch, they may be at risk of suffering potentially fatal adverse events. Serious side effects linked to the fentanyl pain patch include central nervous system depression, decreased heart rate, decreased respiration and death.
Since the FDA issued updated safety information regarding the use of the fentanyl pain patch in 2007, the authors of the study say that improper prescribing practices have grown less common. However, many doctors continue to prescribe fentanyl to their patients in violation of the FDA prescribing guidelines, potentially exposing their patients to an increased risk of serious or fatal overdose.
Researchers say that the problem of prescribing the fentanyl patch to opioid naïve patients is especially concerning for elderly patients who are treated with fentanyl. The authors of the Manitoba study say that because elderly patients have altered absorption and metabolic levels compared to younger patients, the effects of the pain patch on their bodies may be even more pronounced, putting them at an increased risk of overdose or other complications.
The researchers behind the study say that physician unfamiliarity with the fentanyl pain patch and its potential side effects is one factor in the high rate of inappropriate prescribing practices. In studies where doctors were reminded about FDA guidelines for prescribing fentanyl, inappropriate prescribing practices involving the pain patch and adverse events that can result from them decreased significantly. The study’s authors also wrote that patient education programs about the safe use of the fentanyl patch and proper disposal methods could help to reduce the risk of overdose once patients are discharged from the hospital.
When doctors fail to follow established protocols for prescribing fentanyl or other painkillers, abuse, addiction, or deadly overdoses may result. When patients are prescribed too many painkillers by a doctor, or when patients are kept on these opioid medications for too long, they may be at risk of suffering an overdose. Patients who are prescribed fentanyl in combination with other central nervous system depressant medications may also be at risk of suffering a combined drug overdose.
If you or a loved one have suffered a fentanyl overdose or suffered a combined drug overdose caused by the interaction between fentanyl and other medications, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit. The first step in determining whether you may qualify to file a lawsuit is to speak with an attorney with experience in handling fentanyl litigation.
The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are committed to helping patients and their families who have been affected by doctors or other healthcare providers who irresponsibly prescribe painkillers or other dangerous drugs to patients. Our law firm has represented numerous patients who have suffered complications from opioid painkillers, and have handled more cases involving the fentanyl pain patch than all other firms in the U.S. combined.
The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have achieved verdicts and settlements in fentanyl lawsuits on behalf of our clients totaling tens of millions of dollars. Our lawyers will work on your behalf to ensure that we achieve the best possible results in your case.
For a free legal consultation from an attorney to find out if you are eligible to file a fentanyl case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located at the top of this page.