Fentanyl is a highly powerful painkiller. It’s so powerful that even a tiny amount can lead to an overdose. While it is a Schedule II drug and can be prescribed, it’s intended only for limited situations, such as cancer or surgical pain. As with other opioids, fentanyl has a high potential for abuse.

There are several ways medical providers prescribe fentanyl for pain relief. These include as a dissolvable tablet or film, a lozenge or a lollipop. One of the most popular ways physicians prescribe fentanyl is in patch form. These fentanyl patches are used for pain relief in certain medical settings, but should not be misused.

How Does Fentanyl For Pain Relief Work?

Before learning about fentanyl patches for pain relief, it’s helpful to understand how fentanyl is used for pain relief.

Fentanyl is an opioid. Other opioids include prescribed medications like morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone, but also illicit street drugs like heroin. While these drugs have differences from one another, they also have similarities, namely in how they act on the brain and the body.

When a person takes an opioid, it attaches to their brain’s opioid receptors, which then signal changes in the areas where they are located. This is what’s responsible for blocking pain, but at the same time it also slows respiration and calms the body. When you suffer from chronic or severe pain, your body isn’t capable of naturally producing enough opioids to keep you from feeling the pain, but your body also can’t produce enough natural opioids to lead to an overdose.

External opioids activate opioid receptors because their structure is similar to the body’s naturally produced opioids, which are called endorphins.

For example, When you take fentanyl patches for pain relief, the opioids flood your brain with dopamine, which activates your reward system. Dopamine is responsible for the regulation of emotions and feelings of pleasure, which explains the sense of euphoria people often get from fentanyl and other opioid painkillers.

Fentanyl Patches for Pain Relief

The fentanyl transdermal patch, available under several different brand names, is just one of many ways fentanyl can be given. Fentanyl patches for pain relief may take up to 24 hours for full effect, and then the patch is left in place for three days before being removed and replaced with a new one.

Unlike other opioids, fentanyl is intended only for chronic pain in people who are opioid-tolerant, meaning they’re already tolerant to other opioids. The transdermal patch was introduced as a way to lower some of the risks that come with using fentanyl for pain relief, including abuse and overdose. However, there are still some risks with the patch.

When someone uses transdermal fentanyl or fentanyl patches for pain relief, a patch with gel is applied directly to their skin. The gel in the patch contains a reservoir of medicine, which is released gradually into the skin. It has to build up in the skin to a certain point before it enters the bloodstream. The slow release of fentanyl using fentanyl patches for pain relief is meant to cut down on some of the risks of abuse.

Unfortunately, some people abuse fentanyl patches by wearing more than one at a time, chewing them, boiling them and drinking the medication as a type of tea, or by injecting the gel. This medicine is meant to be released slowly, so abusing patches in any of these ways can be dangerous and may even result in death.

There are other things to keep in mind when using fentanyl patches for pain relief. For example, if children or anyone who’s not opioid-tolerant comes in contact with the gel in the patch, it can be dangerous or deadly.

It’s also important that people with fentanyl patches for pain relief don’t do things that raise their body temperature, because it can increase the potency of the patch, leading to overdose. There are also side effects of using fentanyl patches for pain relief that can be harmful, including nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, and rash at the area of application.

Fentanyl for pain relief should be taken very seriously, and extreme caution needs to be used. This extends to using fentanyl patches for pain relief. Because of their potency and the potential risks, these patches must only be used exactly as directed.

If you or someone you know is misusing the fentanyl patch or other opioids, addiction treatment can help them move forward. Contact The Recovery Village to learn more about substance abuse treatment options.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Kevin Wandler
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.