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Last week, the Pilot Online reported about the unfortunate death of a Navy Marine due, allegedly, to a deadly combination of a hot shower and a prescription medication called fentanyl. While fentanyl is prescribed only in very specific circumstances and, hopefully, under the close watch of a physician, the article really highlights some of the dangers of prescription pain medications and their need for proper use.

Fentanyl comes in a variety of forms, but often is used as a patch, which is marketed under the name Duragesic. Generally, the use of this patch is only recommended for use with patients who experience moderate to severe chronic pain and who do not find relief in more commonly prescribed narcotic painkillers. While managing pain through medication is a crucial need for many patients—including cancer patients such as the Marine talked about in the article—it is important to remember just how dangerous these drugs can be.

In the case of fentanyl, as far back as 2005 the FDA was already investigating reports of death and other serious side effects from overdoses of fentanyl administered through skin patches. At that time, the FDA issues a series of safety warnings for physicians and patients concerning the use of fentanyl skin patches. Among the warnings was one about exposure to heat while using a fentanyl skin patch. Then, a couple of years later, in 2007, the FDA reiterated those warnings, advising patients to avoid exposing the patch to excessive heat because doing so increases the release of the drug into the body, which can lead to a fatal overdose. This means that patients taking fentanyl should avoid the use of a heating pad, an electric blanket, a hot tub, or a sauna. Even sunbathing and taking hot baths are activities that should be avoided, according to packaging for the fentanyl skin patches.

Many individuals who suffer from chronic pain seek relief from a variety of sources. And often, applying heat or relaxing in a hot bath can seem soothing. Yet, those remedies in combination with powerful drugs such as fentanyl can be deadly, as this article reminds us. Patients and doctors really do need to work together to make sure that the drugs are not only prescribed in the right situation but that all of the safety precautions are adhered to.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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