Fentanyl is a Schedule II narcotic reserved for those with severe ongoing pain, often due to cancer. This medication is classified as an opioid analgesic and reduces pain by changing how the brain and body react to pain. Several forms of fentanyl exist, including a skin patch version that is known as a transdermal dosage.

Article at a Glance:

  • Transdermal fentanyl patches release fentanyl into the body through the skin. They include the discontinued brand name, Ionsys, the brand name Duragesic and a generic version.
  • As a Schedule II narcotic, transdermal fentanyl patches are at high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence.
  • The most common side effects of fentanyl patches include nausea, vomiting and redness at the application site.
  • If you struggle with transdermal fentanyl products, a rehab program can help you quit fentanyl.

What is a Transdermal Fentanyl Patch?

As their name suggests, transdermal fentanyl patches release fentanyl into the bloodstream through the skin. Fentanyl is a drug prescribed to treat severe pain, usually caused by serious conditions like cancer. A person needs to be tolerant to opioids before being prescribed fentanyl due to the risk of overdose. For this reason, transdermal fentanyl is intended for ongoing or chronic pain and should not be taken as needed.

Ionsys was the brand name for a specific transdermal fentanyl patch reserved for hospital use. It has since been discontinued. A separate transdermal fentanyl patch, available both as a generic drug and under the brand name Duragesic, is currently available in pharmacies with a prescription.

Transdermal Fentanyl Addiction

As a controlled substance, transdermal fentanyl can cause dependence or a substance use disorder. Fentanyl triggers the brain’s reward pathway, which often leads to addiction. Fentanyl is also up to 100 times stronger than morphine, making it susceptible to misuse even at the dosage recommended by a doctor.

Severe ongoing pain is often exhausting, so it can be tempting to cut your transdermal fentanyl patch or use multiple patches at the same time. Doing so, unfortunately, can come with serious side effects, including a deadly overdose. Always take your prescription as directed to reduce your risk of harm.

Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects of Abuse

People who misuse opioids like transdermal fentanyl often show many side effects. These can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Slowed breathing

 Signs someone could have a fentanyl addiction include:

  • Continuing to use fentanyl, despite harmful side effects or consequences
  • Feeling out of control over fentanyl
  • Intense cravings for fentanyl
  • Failed attempts to stop taking or cut down on fentanyl
  • Social and relationship problems because of fentanyl
  • Putting oneself in risky or dangerous situations to get fentanyl
  • Focusing one’s energy on fentanyl
  • Having problems with meeting responsibilities because of fentanyl

Transdermal Fentanyl Overdose

Fentanyl acts directly on the brain stem, which controls automatic breathing. Individuals experiencing an overdose may become unresponsive and be entirely unaware of their surroundings. The primary symptoms of a transdermal fentanyl overdose include:

  • Pale, cold or clammy skin
  • Going limp
  • Blue or purple nails or lips
  • Vomiting or making gurgling noises
  • Unable to be roused
  • Slowed breathing

A transdermal fentanyl overdose is a medical emergency. If you have the opioid reversal agent naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, you should administer it right away and then call 911. Even if the overdose victim appears to be improving, it is important to seek medical help. Naloxone can wear off within 30 minutes and put the person at risk of going back into an overdose, which can be fatal.

Transdermal Fentanyl and Alcohol

Transdermal fentanyl patches should not be used while drinking alcohol. Because fentanyl is an opioid that can cause drowsiness and confusion, it should not be combined with any substances that can magnify those effects. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can cause a loss of coordination, drowsiness and nausea. Taking alcohol with fentanyl can not only compound these effects but also cause blackouts and dangerous symptoms.

Long-Term Consequences

Some patients who have been using transdermal fentanyl patches for an extended period of time may experience long-term effects. This can include deficiency of the androgen hormone, which can cause:

  • Low libido
  • Impotence
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Irregular or stopped menstruation
  • Infertility

Transdermal Fentanyl Withdrawal

Set up a meeting with your doctor if you are interested in stopping your transdermal fentanyl treatment. You should never stop using transdermal fentanyl suddenly, or “cold turkey,” or adjust your treatment schedule without your doctor’s recommendation. In most cases, doctors will gradually lower a patient’s transdermal fentanyl dose over time so the body can respond to less of the medication and help prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Common withdrawal symptoms of using transdermal fentanyl patches include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Watery eyes and/or nose
  • Diarrhea

It is much more likely for a patient to experience fentanyl withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the medication. Therefore, it is important to talk to your doctor about tapering down your dosage over time.

Withdrawal Timeline and Symptom Duration

The course of transdermal fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person. Factors can include your dose and how long you have taken the drug. The earliest symptoms of withdrawal usually begin between 8 and 24 hours after the last dose.

Transdermal Fentanyl Addiction Treatment & Detox

The Recovery Village offers multiple resources and treatment programs for those who struggle with transdermal fentanyl. Our staff are experts in helping people come off opioids. We have both inpatient and outpatient transdermal fentanyl rehab options and an expert medical team to answer any questions you may have regarding these programs.

Safely detoxing from fentanyl is the first step in overcoming your addiction. Once the medication is completely removed from your body, you can participate in individual and group counseling to learn coping skills for a fentanyl-free life.

  • Medications and Detox

    People may want a medically-assisted detoxification program to help them through the difficult withdrawal process. In a medical detox program, patients allow fentanyl to leave their system under medical supervision to minimize withdrawal symptoms for a safer, more comfortable experience.

    Sometimes, medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, can be used during withdrawal and detox to manage symptoms and cravings. One of the more well-known opioid withdrawal and detox medications is methadone. Methadone activates the same receptors as other opioids without the heightened euphoric effects. Buprenorphine is the active ingredient in Suboxone, which can also help with withdrawal symptoms. Other medications may be prescribed as needed to help you detox comfortably from transdermal fentanyl.

  • Inpatient Rehab

    Inpatient rehab allows patients to live at one of The Recovery Village’s designated inpatient centers. This treatment option is beneficial for patients who have developed a severe transdermal fentanyl addiction or for those who may have difficulty recovering due to distractions from the outside world. In this program, patients attend individual and group therapy to address the reasons they may have become addicted in the first place.

  • Outpatient Rehab

    Once a patient finishes the inpatient transdermal fentanyl rehab program, they will begin outpatient rehab treatment. In this treatment program, patients live at home while attending scheduled treatment appointments at The Recovery Village. Some patients with mild addiction may choose to entirely skip the inpatient treatment option if their team agrees they don’t need to live on campus to recover from their substance use disorder. Teletherapy may also be an option.

Choosing a Transdermal Fentanyl Rehab Center

Choosing a rehab center to fit your needs is an important step in recovering from fentanyl addiction. To make an informed decision, talk to your doctor about what features you need in a rehab center. You should discuss and consider different factors like how long you have been using transdermal fentanyl and your transdermal fentanyl dose.

Overcoming a transdermal fentanyl addiction is hard work, but you don’t have to do it alone. At The Recovery Village, we have a wide range of customized treatment options to help you start a new life without transdermal fentanyl. Don’t wait; call us today.

FAQs & Related

  • How is a Transdermal Fentanyl Patch used?

    This medication comes in a patch form, which is typically worn for 72 hours at a time. It is suggested that patients place the patch on skin that has been washed with water and properly dried. Try not to wear your transdermal fentanyl patch in the same area of skin each time, as this can cause unnecessary irritation. Never increase your dosage or apply more than one patch at a time, as this can have serious side effects that can be fatal.

  • What was Ionsys?

    Ionsys was the brand name for the now-discontinued fentanyl iontophoretic transdermal system. Ionsys contained fentanyl and was used in hospitals for the short-term management of pain after surgeries.

    Ionsys was a device that included a recessed dosing button placed on your skin. The device delivered fentanyl directly into the bloodstream by way of an invisible electric field. It featured a drug reservoir and a battery. When someone used Ionsys, it delivered a specific amount of fentanyl with each activation. Ionsys is no longer manufactured, and any Ionsys you find is likely to be long-expired or counterfeit.

  • How long does Transdermal Fentanyl stay in your system?

    Fentanyl can stay in the body for different periods of time, depending on what is being tested. The drug and its breakdown products can be found in urine for up to 3 days and in saliva for up to 2 days. A 1.5-inch hair sample can show if any transdermal fentanyl was taken in the past 90 days.

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.