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How Does Fentanyl Work?

Fentanyl binds to the opioid mu-receptors throughout the body, producing many different effects. Some of these effects, such as pain relief, are desirable; other effects, such as slowing down the digestive tract, are undesirable and lead to side effects such as constipation.
The effects of fentanyl include but are not limited to:
  • Pain relief
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in mood, including feelings of unease (dysphoria) or unusually pleasant feelings (euphoria)
  • Cough suppression
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Slowing of the digestive tract
  • Pupil constriction
  • Itching
  • Physical dependence.

When and How to Use It

Some general considerations to keep in mind during treatment with fentanyl include the following:
  • This medication comes in many different forms, and the directions for each individual fentanyl product vary. Make sure to refer to the information for your specific medication.
  • When using fentanyl products that dissolve in the mouth, you should generally avoid eating or drinking anything until the medication is completely dissolved. However, you may drink liquids five minutes after placing fentanyl film in your mouth.
  • Do not cut, tear, bite, chew, break, or swallow any of the fentanyl products.
  • Do not cover fentanyl patches with bandages or tape. If the patch will not stick, you may use first aid tape around the patch edges only, or use a special clear adhesive dressing. Tell your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have a problem with the patch sticking.
  • In general, fentanyl medications used on an as-needed basis should not be used more than four times a day. Tell your healthcare provider if you feel you need to use it more often.
  • Fentanyl medications come in individual, sealed packages. Do not open the packages until you are ready to use the medication.
  • When using "as-needed" fentanyl medications, make sure to continue taking your regularly scheduled, around-the-clock, opioid pain medication as well. Using an "as-needed" fentanyl product alone will not control your pain.
  • All fentanyl products must be stored in a safe place, out of the reach of children and protected from theft, and disposed of properly. Fentanyl is a desired drug of abuse. It is a strong medication that can be dangerous if ingested by a child or someone for whom it was not prescribed (see Fentanyl Storage and Disposal for more information).
  • For these drugs to work properly, they must be used as prescribed. Do not increase your dose or suddenly stop using a medication without your healthcare provider's approval.
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