Fentanyl is a schedule II drug in the United States. This classification means that while it has the potential for abuse, it also has medical uses. Unfortunately, even though it’s a prescription-only pain medication, it’s often obtained illegally and it’s widely abused because of its potency.
Fentanyl is used for the treatment of chronic pain. It’s used most often to treat pain experienced by cancer patients, and in particular, something called breakthrough pain. This type of pain occurs when a cancer patient has constant pain medicine already, such as morphine, but then experiences sudden, severe pain as well. Fentanyl works by acting on the brain’s opioid receptors to alter how the brain experiences pain and also reacts to it.
Additionally, fentanyl is used specifically for people who are opioid-tolerant, meaning they need relief for serious pain but they’ve developed a tolerance to other opioids, rendering them ineffective.
Fentanyl is not intended to be used for pain that’s short term and will go away in a few days or on an as-needed basis.
Some outlets warn against using fentanyl for the treatment of surgical pain, but it is still sometimes used for such pain management. When it’s used for surgical applications, it’s often part of the anesthesia given to patients to prevent pain following the surgery.
When fentanyl is prescribed medically, it’s available in several different forms including as a lozenge, a lollipop, a spray, a dissolving strip, a tablet, an injectable solution and a patch that goes on the skin.
Since there is a high likelihood of abuse and dependence with fentanyl when it’s needed, it’s used under medical supervision.
Patients who are prescribed fentanyl are given a set of instructions, which include not drinking alcohol when taking it and checking with a pharmacist before taking any other over-the-counter or prescription medicines, vitamins or supplements.
Since fentanyl is a controlled substance and is intended only for very specific purposes, a patient should never be given the drug for longer than necessary. When someone takes fentanyl for too long, their body becomes used to it and they develop a tolerance. When tolerance develops and the person stops taking the drug, they will experience uncomfortable, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
The transdermal patch version of fentanyl is specifically for patients who are already opioid dependent. The medicine in the patch is absorbed through the skin, and a buildup of the medicine has to occur in the skin before it starts working. It can continue being effective for up to 24 hours after the patch is removed as well.
As previously mentioned, fentanyl is used primarily to treat cancer pain.
When fentanyl is prescribed, it’s important that the doctor is careful with the selection of patients, and pre-screening occurs to make sure they’re watching out for a higher-than-average potential for abuse.
When fentanyl is used to treat pain in patients who aren’t necessarily good candidates, it can lead to addiction, dependence and even death.
If you or a loved one live with an addiction to fentanyl or another opioid, it’s time to address the addiction with treatment. The Recovery Village provides individualized treatment plans to patients that address addiction and co-occurring disorders. Call today and take the first step toward a healthier future.
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