The European newspaper Daily Mail (12/20/11) reports the case of Barbara Reynolds, a 67-year-old woman with chronic pain, who was prescribed fentanyl patches for that pain. One day, Reynolds reportedly put on a new patch but forgot to remove the old one. She then did something that many people with chronic pain do: she had a bath. Unfortunately, the heat from that bath reportedly sped up the absorption of fentanyl by her body, causing her heart to stop.
How did the heat from the bath cause an increase in fentanyl absorption? According to experts, heat from the bath caused Reynold's blood vessels to dilate, which increased the blood flow and moved the fentanyl from the patch and into her body. It is not just fentanyl patches that have this reaction, according to experts. Any medication that is given via patch runs a risk of increased absorption when used in a bath or in other hot conditions.
The problem, however, is that patients may not be aware of this risk and, because baths are soothing for pain, may unknowingly put themselves at risk of serious side effects.
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Meanwhile, in the US, the risk from painkiller overdoses reportedly remains high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 15,000 people die each year from painkiller overdose, more than the combined number of deaths from heroin and cocaine overdoses. WebMD (12/20/11) reports that 40 percent of deaths in 2008 involved the use of prescription opioid pain medications, including fentanyl. Although some of the deaths are intentional, some are accidental and are the result of patients not realizing how strong the opioid fentanyl patches are.