Fentanyl patch, also known by Duragesic, was created to provide all day and night pain relief to people who have severe, chronic pain. This medication is extended-release and is extremely potent. The transdermal patch is placed onto the skin of the patient and releases the medication over the course of 72 hours.

According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, they want to warn people that these types of patches are often abused through ingesting, injecting, and inhaling them. Some people even smoke or inject the medication they scrape off from the patch. Others may freeze squares of the patches and insert them into their rectum. These are all extremely dangerous methods and could be fatal.


Fentanyl is very potent. It is around 50 – 100 times more potent than morphine. It is around 25 – 50 times more potent than heroin. Even in small amounts, this medication can be fatal. In fact, some people have died after only touching a pinpoint of this medication. When the skin absorbs the drug, it does so quickly. This makes the risk of overdose immense.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, there has been a huge increase in the number of overdoses from fentanyl over recent years. This indicates there are more people abusing it as well. During 2013 to 2104, the death rates for overdose on synthetic opioids, not counting methadone, was increased by around 80% throughout the United States. The main reason for this jump was due to fentanyl abuse.

Since fentanyl is so potent, and it goes to the brain and the bloodstream so quickly, this increases the risk that a life-threatening overdose could occur. In addition, this makes the drug that much more habit-forming as well.

It should also be known that abuse of these patches can cause the brain to quickly become dependent upon them. This can lead to major symptoms of withdrawal when the fentanyl starts leaving one’s system.

Abuse of Fentanyl Patches and the Brain

This drug is very fast-acting. It enters one’s bloodstream very quickly. The patch was created to let the medication work up in the system over the course of 3 days after placing the patch onto the skin. Many people are prescribed fentanyl patches when they have significant or chronic pain. They need some sort of powerful pain relief and this seems to be the drug that works for most.

The purpose of opioid drugs is to block the pain that is received by the brain. When this happens, the central nervous system is slowed down. Moods, movement, heart rate, body temperature, respiration rates, and blood pressure are all affected.

When someone repeatedly uses these patches, with time, they become more tolerant to their dosage. The dosage they had before to manage their pain may not be effects any longer. This will cause most people to need an increased dosage for pain management. However, sometimes there isn’t a higher dosage allowed.

When someone raises their fentanyl patch dosage, the odds that they will become physically dependent upon the medication is quite high. If someone does become dependent on this medication physically, their brain chemistry levels are affected as well. The brain expects to get the fentanyl to keep chemical states regulated. Without use of the drug, the brain will have a difficult time maintaining those chemical levels. If the fentanyl starts wearing off, the brain can go into shock. The user might experience cravings and symptoms of withdrawal at this time.

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Timeline for Fentanyl Patch Withdrawal

If someone takes off their fentanyl patch, it may be nearly 1 day before the medication is out of their body. The Duragesic prescribing information warns patients that this drug shouldn’t be stopped cold turkey because of the symptoms of withdrawal that might occur.

The half-life for the fentanyl patches is around 17 hours. This means that the medication will start wearing off around that time. Withdrawal from fentanyl can be based on many things including age, race, metabolism, and gender. There are environmental factors as well including stability and stress. The more dependent someone was on this medication, the more intense their withdrawals might be.

Physical dependence to fentanyl is determined by many things including the following:

  • Concurrent use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Methods which fentanyl was being used
  • Any mental health disorders or other medical conditions
  • Biological and genetic components
  • Dosage amounts
  • Length of time someone was using the medication

Mixing fentanyl and other types of substances can make the withdrawal symptoms much worse. In addition, abuse of fentanyl patches can cause someone to become even more dependent upon them. This can affect the timeline for withdrawal symptoms and the severity of the symptoms as well.

According to the National Library of Medicine, NLM, the withdrawal from fentanyl will generally start in around 12 – 30 hours after someone’s last dosage of any opioid drug. The acute symptoms of withdrawal might last around 4 – 10 days, based on information provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA.

Withdrawal Symptoms with Fentanyl

Generally, the symptoms of withdrawal will peak around 2 – 3 days after stopping the drug and then start tapering off. The emotional symptoms of withdrawal might last for longer. This would be called prolonged withdrawal. This can be handled with supportive treatments and other therapeutic methods.

While the experiences each individual have may vary, there are average timelines for fentanyl withdrawal that can be expected. This timeline includes the following:

  • 24 hours after taking the patch off – Muscle aches, insomnia, yawning, irregular heart rate, watery eyes, agitation, runny nose, sweating, and anxiety
  • About 2 -3 days after that – Stomach cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, dilated pupils, goosebumps, opioid cravings, tremors, depression, difficulties with concentration and focus, muscle tension, irritability, and lapses in memory
  • 3 – 5 days after the last fentanyl dose – Mood swings, issues with concentration, general malaise and lethargy, and disturbances with sleep
  • 5 – 10 days later – difficulties with cognitive abilities, trouble feeling excitement or happiness, fatigue, weight loss, or possible anorexia
  • 1 week – many months after last dose – Sleep issues, depression, irritability, anxiety, difficulties focusing and with concentration, and lack of energy

The withdrawal side effects from a fentanyl patch may not be life-threatening. However, the discomfort that someone feels may mean they need or want to get intervention services or medical treatment. In addition, a lot of support is beneficial when going through the withdrawal process to avoid relapsing. Medical detox programs can provide this support.

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Medical Detox and the Fentanyl Patch

There are many medical detox programs that can help you overcome an addiction to fentanyl patches. The medical detox program can make you more comfortable while you are withdrawing from these patches. They can also help to make the withdrawal process a bit shorter as well. Through the detox program, your symptoms of withdrawal will be managed through medical support and other measures needed.

Opioid drugs and fentanyl are very potent and affects the chemistry of the brain strongly. This is part of the reason why most medical professionals will recommend that people don’t quit taking these drugs cold turkey. In the medical detox program, the dose can be tapered down slowly. This can help to reduce the severity of the withdrawal symptom as well.

Fentanyl can be replaced with other drugs, such as buprenorphine or methadone, to help with the tapering process. Sometimes Catapres, a blood pressure medication, can help ease cravings as well. Recently, the FDA approved a medication that helps with opioid withdrawal called Lucemyra, lofexidine. The withdrawal symptoms can be alleviated from this medication explains the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA.

In medical detox, the patient’s vital signs will be monitored continuously. They may receive medications to help ensure they stay stable and safe as well. Some of the medications which might be given are stomach and GI medications, nonsteroidal pain relieving medications, sleep aids, and mood stabilizers. Mental health issues can be monitored in these programs as well.

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More Than Just Detox

A full addiction rehab center program should be followed through with after detox. This increases the chances that the patient will stay clean for longer. These addiction rehab center programs provide continuous support, education, encouragement, therapy, and other holistic options to help you overcome an addiction to fentanyl or other drugs. They enhance the healing and recovery process as well.

During the rehab center treatment programs, you can receive many tools, resources, and treatments to help improve your overall well-being. NIDA does recommend that people with a fentanyl addiction stay in a rehab center for a minimum of 90 days.

Everyone is different when it comes to an addiction to fentanyl or other drugs. While there is a common timeline for withdrawals when it comes to fentanyl patches, you may have things go a bit differently. No matter the case, you may want to receive help from an a professional detox program and a rehab program to help you get and stay clean from drugs. Fentanyl is potent and it can be difficult to overcome an addiction to it. Make the best choices for yourself today.

Want more information about how Chapters Capistrano can help? Feel free to call 949-276-2886 and one of our addiction specialists will help get the information and help you need.

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