Fentanyl is a potent narcotic drug. It is chemically similar to morphine but 80 to 100 times stronger, and is a synthetic opioid. Typically it is used to treat serious or chronic pain in patients facing serious illness, and is administered through a patch, injection, pill or even lozenge. Doctors have been negligently prescribing fentanyl to patients and as a result, people are becoming dependent and dying.
Some doctors have been prescribing Fentanyl that is dangerous and deadly for patients. It is the responsibility of a medical professional to prescribe medications in a safe manner.
Fentanyl can depress, or slow down, a person’s system very quickly. When a patient has too strong a dose of the drug, there are certain signs and symptoms that they will show. A person’s heartbeat will decrease significantly and they may experience dizziness, confusion, weak muscles, pinpoint pupils, extreme sleepiness, fainting or loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, bluish tint to their nails and lips and dangerously slowed or stopped breathing.
Because of the significant dangers and risks that Fentanyl carries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the medication for acute postoperative pain in patients. Although it has not been approved for short-term use, many doctors still prescribe it for pain management when a patient breaks a bone or even develops acid reflux after a surgical procedure. This can result in patients overdosing or dying from the medication.
Another risk that physicians sometimes ignore, putting patients in danger is when Fentanyl is prescribed to someone without preexisting opioid tolerance. The FDA mandates that a patient is only eligible for a Fentanyl prescription if he or she has been taking a particular dose of morphine for at least a week prior to taking Fentanyl. This is because without having a certain tolerance for opiates, Fentanyl has too strong and dangerous an effect on someone’s health. For similar reasons, Fentanyl must be prescribed at a safe and reasonable dose. Too often, however, physicians prescribe too potent of a dosage. This can result in a patient’s death after taking the drug just one time.
Being on other medications or having certain preexisting medical conditions can create even higher risks when taking Fentanyl. A doctor should be aware if their patient is taking CNS depressants and know that the FDA warns of combining the two drug types. CNS, or Central Nervous System depressants are tranquilizers or sedatives, and when they are taken at the same time as Fentanyl it can cause respiratory depression. Respiratory depression occurs when a person’s respiratory rate does not allow for their lungs to fully expand, providing a sufficient amount of oxygen to tissue. Similarly, when a patient has a medical history including significant pulmonary problems, their chance of suffering from respiratory depression after taking Fentanyl is much higher. For these reasons, doctors are supposed to exercise particular caution in prescribing Fentanyl to patients with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis or asthma.
Regardless of what form of Fentanyl is being prescribed – a patch, lozenge or pill – the FDA has regulations in place to protect a patient’s health and life. When it comes to Fentanyl pills and lozenges, the only FDA-approved use is for patients who have opioid tolerance and are experiencing serious, breakthrough pain as a result of cancer. Although these limitations are in place, too often do doctors prescribe Fentanyl pills and lozenges to people experiencing back or headache pain. Not only is that use unapproved, but it results in patient deaths from overdoses and respiratory depression.
As patients, we trust doctors when they treat us and prescribe medications. Unfortunately, doctors sometimes prescribe drugs in unethical manners, ignoring FDA guidelines and undervaluing the danger it creates for their patients. While it is important for a physician to be aware of a patient’s medical history as well as what medications he or she is taking, it is also their legal responsibility to treat us in a safe manner that does not deviate from the accepted, medical standard of care.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury because of an overprescribed medication, please call the knowledgeable Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP. With offices located in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Reading and Bethlehem, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.