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The fentanyl overdose and near death of a young boy from Maine earlier this summer has led to increasing concerns about the risks that powerful pain patches may pose for children throughout the United States.
An 8-month-old boy was hospitalized in June after he found a fentanyl pain patch and put it into his mouth. The boy was treated with a fast-acting opiate antidote and survived, according to an investigative report by MSNBC.
However, the close call has raised concerns from some experts, who warn that even after a pain patch is discarded, they contain amounts of the powerful opioid drug fentanyl that could cause serious side effects for children who may find the patches. At least four children have died and six have been hospitalized after coming in contact with fentanyl pain patches since 1997, with many other incidents likely going unreported.
Duragesic pain patches, and generic equivalents, contain fentanyl gel, which is 100-times stronger than morphine. The gel is supposed to be contained within the patch and delivered in a regulated fashion through a membrane placed on the skin. However, the FDA has received hundreds of reports of fentanyl overdoses and deaths associated with the use of the Duragesic patch and generic pain patches, where too much of the fentanyl was delivered through the skin or where manufacturing defects allowed the gel to leak out of the patch.
In 2005 and again in 2007, the FDA issued warnings on the proper disposal of transdermal pain patches. The agency urged consumers to take steps to prevent them falling into the hands of children or pets and also asked people to flush the potent drugs down the toilet.
In addition to fentanyl pain patches, experts indicate that children could be at risk from other products, such as nicotine patches, which can cause sickness, weakness and seizures. They could also come into contact with nitroglycerin patches, which could cause heart problems in children. Birth control patches are likely not to have an immediate effect, but could cause long-term health problems.
The FDA recommends that the patches be folded, sticky side together after use and flushed. Less dangerous patches can be disposed of by folding and placing in a childproof container.