The patches, containing the narcotic fentanyl, are marketed under the name Duragesic by Janssen, a company owned by Johnson & Johnson. A generic version was put on the market in February by Mylan Laboratories. In last year Duragesic made sales of more than $2 billion.
FDA had approved the patches which are intended for people with moderate to severe chronic pain that requires treatment around the clock for an extended period of time and that cannot be controlled by other narcotics alone. The patches should be used only patients who are already tolerant of narcotics, as some cancer patients, but people recovering from surgery, or suffering from short-term pain for other reasons should not use this patches.
A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said the 120 deaths had occurred since Duragesic was first approved in 1990 and added that the investigation was still going on and that it was not known whether the product actually caused the deaths and other problems reported in users.
Some health advisory or doctors might not be fully aware of dangers that produce fentanyl, and FDA describes it as a "very strong narcotic". An overdose can cause a person to stop breathing; taking off the patch will not reverse the effects because the drug has already built up in the person's system and may continue to be absorbed from the skin for 17 hours or more.
The advisory warns that the patches must be used exactly as prescribed and that doctors and patients must be alert for signs of overdose like breathing difficulties, extreme tiredness and feelings of faintness or dizziness.
Certain medicines, including antifungals and some drugs used to treat HIV, can also lead to fentanyl overdoses in people wearing the patches.
Fentanyl in any form is also popular with drug abusers, and a report issued this month by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse said the patches were "increasingly implicated in cases of abuse," and were often stolen from hospitals and clinics and then cut open to extract the fentanyl.
A spokesman for Johnson & Johnson said the patches, when used properly, were an important treatment. Mylan drug company declined to comment on the public health advisory.
If you are unfortunate enough to have to rely on fentanyl patches for pain relief please make sure your prescibing doctor is not planning a vacation leaving patients without meds. Detoxing from 75 mcg cold turkey was hell. Always make sure you see docs who have backup.