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Fentanyl is an opioid medication. An opioid is sometimes called a narcotic.  Fentanyl is used as part of anesthesia to help prevent pain after surgery or other medical procedure.

Fentanyl is used to treat breakthrough pain (sudden episodes of pain that occur despite round the clock treatment with pain medication) in cancer patients at least 18 years of age (or at least 16 years of age if taking Actiq brand lozenges) who are taking regularly scheduled doses of another narcotic (opiate) pain medication, and who are tolerant (used to the effects of the medication) to narcotic pain medications.  Fentanyl is in a class of medications called narcotic (opiate) analgesics. It works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain.

In its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates. It is a schedule II prescription drug.

Fentanyl (also known as fentanil, brand names Sublimaze, Actiq, Durogesic, Duragesic, Fentora, Matrifen, Haldid, Onsolis, Instanyl, Abstral, Lazanda and others) is a potent, synthetic opioid analgesic with a rapid onset and short duration of action. It is a strong agonist at the μ-opioid receptors. Historically, it has been used to treat breakthrough pain and is commonly used in pre-procedures as a pain reliever as well as an anesthetic in combination with a benzodiazepine.[citation needed]

Fentanyl is approximately 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade (100% pure) heroin.

Fentanyl was first synthesized by Paul Janssen in 1960, following the medical inception of pethidine (also known as meperidine, marketed as Demerol) several years earlier. Janssen developed fentanyl by assaying analogues of the structurally related drug pethidine for opioid activity. The widespread use of fentanyl triggered the production of fentanyl citrate (the salt formed by combining fentanyl and citric acid in a 1:1 stoichiometry),  which entered the clinical practice as a general anaesthetic under the trade name Sublimaze in the 1960s.  Following this, many other fentanyl analogues were developed and introduced into medical practice, including sufentanil,alfentanil, remifentanil, and lofentanil.

In the mid-1990s, fentanyl was first introduced for widespread palliative use with the clinical introduction of the Duragesic patch, followed in the next decade by the introduction of the first quick-acting prescription formulations of fentanyl for personal use, the Actiq lollipop and Fentora buccal as well as through the delivery method of estradiol Mylan transdermal patches. As of 2012 fentanyl was the most widely used synthetic opioid in clinical practice, with several new delivery methods now available, including a sublingual spray for cancer patients. In 2013, 1700 kilograms were used globally.

Fentanyl is used recreationally, whereby death is common. Deaths have resulted from both recreational and improper medical use.

How should this medicine be used?

Fentanyl comes as a lozenge on a handle (Actiq), a sublingual (underneath the tongue) tablet (Abstral), a film (Onsolis), and a buccal (between the gum and cheek) tablet (Fentora) to dissolve in the mouth. Fentanyl is used as needed to treat breakthrough pain, but not more often than four times a day. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand.

Your doctor will probably start you on a low dose of fentanyl and gradually increase your dose until you find the dose that will relieve your breakthrough pain. If you still have pain 30 minutes after using fentanyl films (Onsolis), your doctor may tell you to use another pain medication to relieve that pain, and may increase your dose of fentanyl films (Onsolis) to treat your next episode of pain . Talk to your doctor about how well the medication is working and whether you are experiencing any side effects so that your doctor can decide whether your dose should be adjusted.

Do not use fentanyl more than four times a day. Call your doctor if you experience more than four episodes of breakthrough pain per day. Your doctor may need to adjust the dose of your other pain medication(s) to better control your pain.

Fentanyl may be habit forming. Use fentanyl exactly as directed. Do not use a larger dose of fentanyl, use the medication more often, or use it for a longer period of time than prescribed by your doctor.

Do not stop using fentanyl without talking to your doctor. Your doctor may decrease your dose gradually. If you suddenly stop using fentanyl, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

To use fentanyl lozenges (Actiq), follow these steps:

  1. Check the blister package and the handle of the lozenge to make sure the lozenge contains the dose of medication you have been prescribed.
  2. Use scissors to cut open the blister package and remove the lozenge. Do not open the blister package until you are ready to use the medication.
  3. Place the lozenge in your mouth, between your cheek and gum. Actively suck on the lozenge, but do not chew or bite it. Move the lozenge around in your mouth, from one side to the other, using the handle. Twirl the handle often.
  4. Do not eat or drink anything while the lozenge is in your mouth.
  5. Finish the lozenge in about 15 minutes.
  6. If you begin to feel dizzy, very sleepy, or nauseated before you have finished the lozenge, remove it from your mouth. Dispose of it immediately as described below or put it in the temporary storage bottle for later disposal.
  7. If you finish the entire lozenge, throw the handle away in a garbage can that is out of the reach of children. If you did not finish the entire lozenge, hold the handle under hot running water to dissolve all the medication, and then throw the handle away in a garbage can that is out of the reach of children and pets.

To use fentanyl buccal tablets (Fentora), follow these steps:

  1. Separate one blister unit from the blister card by tearing along the perforations. Peel back the foil to open the blister unit. Do not try to push the tablet through the foil. Do not open the blister unit until you are ready to use the tablet.
  2. Place the tablet in your mouth above one of your upper back teeth between your cheek and your gum.
  3. Leave the tablet in place until it dissolves completely. You may notice a gentle bubbling feeling between your cheek and gum as the tablet dissolves. It may take 14 to 25 minutes for the tablet to dissolve. Do not split, chew, bite, or suck the tablet.
  4. If any of the tablet is left in your mouth after 30 minutes, swallow it with a drink of water.
  5. If you begin to feel dizzy, very sleepy, or nauseated before the tablet dissolves, rinse your mouth with water and spit the remaining pieces of tablet into the sink or toilet. Flush the toilet or rinse the sink to wash away the tablet pieces.

To use fentanyl sublingual tablets (Abstral), follow these steps:

  1. Take a sip of water to moisten your mouth if it is dry. Spit out or swallow the water. Make sure your hands are dry before handling the tablet.
  2. Separate one blister unit from the blister card by tearing along the perforations. Peel back the foil to open the blister unit. Do not try to push the tablet through the foil. Do not open the blister unit until you are ready to use the tablet.
  3. Place the tablet under your tongue as far back as you can. If more than 1 tablet is needed for your dose, spread them around on the floor of your mouth under your tongue.
  4. Leave the tablet in place until it dissolves completely. Do not suck, chew, or swallow the tablet.
  5. Do not eat or drink anything until the tablet is completely dissolved and you no longer feel it in your mouth.

To use fentanyl films (Onsolis), follow these steps:

  1. Use scissors to cut along the arrows of the foil package to open it. Separate the layers of the foil package and remove the film. Do not open the foil package until you are ready to use the medication. Do not cut or tear the film.
  2. Use your tongue to wet the inside of your cheek, or if needed, rinse your mouth with water to wet the area where you will place the film.
  3. Hold the film on a clean, dry finger, with the pink side facing up. Place the film in your mouth, with the pink side against the inside of your moistened cheek. With your finger, press the film against your cheek for 5 seconds. Then remove your finger and the film will stick to the inside of your cheek. If more than one film is needed for your dose, do not put the films on top of each other. You may place the films on either side of your mouth.
  4. Leave the film in place until it dissolves completely. The film will release a minty flavor as it dissolves. It may take 15 to 30 minutes for the film to dissolve. Do not chew or swallow the film. Do not touch or move the film while it dissolves.
  5. You may drink liquids after 5 minutes, but do not eat anything until the film dissolves completely.

Other uses for this medicine

This medication should not be prescribed for other uses; ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

What special precautions should I follow?

Before using fentanyl,

  • tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to fentanyl patches, injection, nasal spray, tablets, lozenges, or films; any other medications; or any of the ingredients in fentanyl tablets, lozenges, or films. Ask your pharmacist or check the Medication Guide for a list of the ingredients.
  • tell your doctor and pharmacist what other prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, and nutritional supplements you are taking or plan to take. Be sure to mention the medications listed in the IMPORTANT WARNING section and any of the following medications: antihistamines; barbiturates such as phenobarbital (Luminal); buprenorphine (Buprenex, Subutex, in Suboxone); butorphanol (Stadol); carbamazepine (Carbatrol, Epitol, Tegretol); efavirenz (in Atripla, Sustiva); medications for mental illness and nausea; modafinil (Provigil); muscle relaxants; nalbuphine (Nubain); nalmefene (Revex); naloxone (Narcan); nevirapine (Viramune); oral steroids such as dexamethasone (Decadron, Dexpak), methylprednisolone (Medrol), and prednisone; oxcarbazepine (Trileptal); other pain medications; pentazocine (Talwin); phenytoin (Dilantin, Phenytek); pioglitazone (Actos, in Actoplus Met, in Duetact); rifabutin (Mycobutin); rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane, in Rifamate, in Rifater); sedatives; sleeping pills; and tranquilizers. Also tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any of the following medications or if you have stopped taking them within the past two weeks: monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors including isocarboxazid (Marplan), phenelzine (Nardil), selegiline (Eldepryl, Emsam, Zelapar), and tranylcypromine (Parnate). Your doctor may need to change the doses of your medications or monitor you carefully for side effects.
  • tell your doctor what herbal products you are taking, especially St. John’s wort.
  • tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family drinks or has ever drunk large amounts of alcohol or uses or has ever used street drugs or excessive amounts of prescription medications. Also tell your doctor if you have or have ever had a head injury, a brain tumor, a stroke, or any other condition that caused high pressure inside your skull; seizures; slowed heartbeat or other heart problems; low blood pressure; mental problems such as depression, schizophrenia (a mental illness that causes disturbed or unusual thinking, loss of interest in life, and strong or inappropriate emotions), or hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist); breathing problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; a group of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema); or kidney or liver disease.
  • tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. If you become pregnant while using fentanyl, call your doctor.
  • if you are having surgery, including dental surgery, tell the doctor or dentist that you are using fentanyl.
  • you should know that fentanyl may make you drowsy or dizzy. Do not drive a car or operate machinery until you know how this medication affects you.
  • do not drink alcohol while you are using fentanyl. Alcohol increases the chance that you will experience serious side effects of the medication.
  • you should know that fentanyl may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting when you get up too quickly from a lying position. This is more common when you first start using fentanyl. To avoid this problem, get out of bed slowly, resting your feet on the floor for a few minutes before standing up.
  • if you have diabetes, you should know that each fentanyl lozenge (Actiq) contains about 2 grams of sugar.
  • if you will be using the lozenges (Actiq), talk to your dentist about the best way to care for your teeth during your treatment. The lozenges contain sugar and may cause tooth decay and other dental problems.
  • you should know that fentanyl may cause constipation. Talk to your doctor about changing your diet and using other medications to treat or prevent constipation.

What special dietary instructions should I follow?

Do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while using this medication.

What should I do if I forget a dose?

This medication is usually used as needed according to directions.

What side effects can this medication cause?

Fentanyl may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:

  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • heartburn
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • difficulty urinating
  • weakness
  • headache
  • changes in vision
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
  • unusual thinking
  • unusual dreams
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • dry mouth
  • sweating
  • sudden reddening of the face, neck, or upper chest
  • uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • back pain
  • chest pain
  • pain, sores, or irritation in the mouth in the area where you placed the medication
  • swelling of the hands, arms, feet, ankles, or lower legs

Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

  • heartbeat that is slower or faster than normal
  • seizures
  • hives
  • rash
  • itching

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop using fentanyl and call your doctor immediately or get emergency medical treatment:

  • slow, shallow breathing
  • decreased urge to breathe
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • extreme drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • fainting

Fentanyl may cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while using this medication.

If you experience a serious side effect, you or your doctor may send a report to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program online ( or by phone (1-800-332-1088).

What should I know about storage and disposal of this medication?

Keep this medication in the packaging it came in, tightly closed, and out of reach of children. Store fentanyl in a safe place so that no one else can use it accidentally or on purpose. Use the child-resistant locks and other supplies provided by the manufacturer to keep children away from the lozenges. Keep track of how much fentanyl is left so you will know if any is missing. Store fentanyl at room temperature and away from excess heat and moisture (not in the bathroom). Do not freeze fentanyl.

You must immediately dispose of any medication that is outdated or no longer needed. Dispose of unneeded lozenges by removing each lozenge from the blister package, holding the lozenge over the toilet, and cutting off the medicine end with wire cutters so that it falls into the toilet. Throw away the remaining handles in a place that is out of the reach of children and pets, and flush the toilet twice when it contains up to five lozenges. Dispose of unneeded tablets or films by removing them from the packaging and flushing them down the toilet. Call your pharmacist or the manufacturer if you have questions or need help disposing of unneeded medication.

In case of emergency/overdose

In case of overdose, remove the fentanyl from the victim’s mouth and call local emergency services at 911.

Symptoms of overdose may include the following:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • slow, shallow breathing or stopped breathing
  • smaller pupils (black circles in the middle of the eyes)

What other information should I know?

Keep all appointments with your doctor.

Do not let anyone else use your medication, even if he or she has the same symptoms that you have. Selling or giving away this medication may cause severe harm or death to others and is against the law.

This prescription is not refillable. Be sure to schedule appointments with your doctor on a regular basis so that you do not run out of medication.

It is important for you to keep a written list of all of the prescription and nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines you are taking, as well as any products such as vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements. You should bring this list with you each time you visit a doctor or if you are admitted to a hospital. It is also important information to carry with you in case of emergencies.

Brand names

  • Abstral®
  • Actiq®
  • Fentora®
  • Onsolis®



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