Fentanyl has quickly risen to become one of the most illegally used and deadly drugs in the U.S., but despite this, there’s still so much that isn’t known about it by most people. Some of the common questions people have to include:

  • What is fentanyl prescribed for?
  • Who can prescribe fentanyl patches?
  • Who is prescribed fentanyl?

Below is some information that answers these questions and gives an overview of not just what fentanyl is prescribed for, but what it is.

What is Fentanyl?

A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is a drug that’s considered significantly more powerful than heroin, and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It was first developed prior to the start of the 1960s.

It has potent pain-relieving effects, and it starts acting quickly, but these effects don’t last long, which is a reason it carries such a high potential for abuse. When someone takes fentanyl, particularly in large doses, it can not just relieve pain but also create a sense of euphoria or extreme relaxation that users often find desirable.

When someone takes fentanyl illicitly, it’s to achieve a high, and it’s often combined with other drugs such as heroin to amplify the effects. While the high may be more powerful when these drugs are combined, it’s also a lot more dangerous.

Some of the ways fentanyl can be taken include patches that go on the skin, lollipops, a dissolvable tongue film, dissolvable pills and intravenously.

Fentanyl is a Schedule II drug, which means that the drug has medical value, but there is a high potential for abuse and therefore, the regulations around it are more stringent.

What is Fentanyl Prescribed For?

There are very specific clinical applications for fentanyl because of the possibility of abuse and dependence.

In the strictest of terms when answering the question of what is fentanyl prescribed for, it’s primarily for use in people who have pain from cancer and it’s not really intended for use in any other situation, aside from chronic cancer pain. In some cases, it is prescribed after surgical procedures, but the U.S. National Library of Medicine lists several warnings for who can prescribe fentanyl patches and who is prescribed fentanyl.

First, according to these warnings, it should only be prescribed for cancer patients who are least 18 years ago, or if the lozenge is prescribed, 16 years old. It’s meant for breakthrough cancer pain, which is a sudden episode that occurs despite constant pain medication treatment. It’s not intended, according to these warnings, for short-term pain, pain from an injury, or pain following a medical or dental procedure.

When considering who is prescribed fentanyl, again, it’s often only used as a palliative treatment or treatment for severe pain, and it’s also for people who are opioid-tolerant, or who already use opioid pain medicines regularly like morphine.

The only people who can prescribe fentanyl patches and other forms of the drug are doctors, and it’s advised that it’s only prescribed by physicians with specific experience treating cancer patients.

In addition to warnings about who is prescribed fentanyl, who can prescribe fentanyl patches and other forms of the drug, and also what fentanyl is prescribed for, there are also strict guidelines for how fentanyl should be prescribed.

To begin, a doctor should start the patient with a low fentanyl dose and gradually move upward until a dose is identified that relieves the patient’s pain. Fentanyl isn’t meant to be used more than four times a day, and patients are warned not to use a larger dose than what they’re prescribed or to stop taking it without approval from a doctor.

When discussing what is fentanyl prescribed for and who is prescribed fentanyl, it’s important that people realize when they’re given this powerful pain reliever in a clinical setting by prescription, it’s in a carefully controlled dose. These doses are often given in a way that is time released so that patients don’t get high. Unfortunately, when people abuse fentanyl, they tend to try to take higher doses and get the effects as quickly as possible, which is what leads to overdoses and potentially death.

Who is Prescribed Fentanyl?

As mentioned, fentanyl is most often prescribed for cancer patients with breakthrough pain, and there are some people who shouldn’t use it.

For example, there are certain prescription drugs and also supplements and vitamins that shouldn’t be used with fentanyl, including antihistamines, buprenorphine, and many others.

Also, when fentanyl is prescribed, doctors should ask about the patient’s family or personal history of the use of alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription drugs, as well as any mental problems including depression or hallucinations.

It’s also not meant to be prescribed for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or who have breathing problems, or kidney or liver disease. If it is prescribed to any members of these groups, prescribers must use extreme caution.

To sum up, what is fentanyl prescribed for, it’s for people with severe pain, most often from cancer, who have not adequately responded to other medications such as morphine.

Who can prescribe fentanyl patches and other forms of the drug? Physicians.

Who is prescribed fentanyl? Ideally, fentanyl is prescribed to people with severe pain who are opioid-tolerant, and who aren’t pregnant, don’t have respiratory problems and who don’t have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.

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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
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