July 16th, 2012 at 1:42 pm
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Caregivers: Store fentanyl patches safely away from children

by Dorian Martin

Recently, my neighbor came over to provide some handyman help. Tagging behind him was his nearly three-year-old daughter, who has a penchant for picking up anything interesting that she sees. To make sure she didn’t venture off into areas where I couldn’t see her, I raced around the house closing bedroom doors. However, I neglected to close the door to Dad’s bathroom.

In hindsight, the omission was a mistake. That’s because Dad often leaves his fentanyl prescription on top of the bathroom vanity. The transdermal system, which looks like a clear adhesive bandage, releases a narcotic pain medicine over a three-day period. Dad uses it to ease his chronic back pain. Yet, fentanyl can have deadly consequences for young children (and pets) that are exposed to the skin patch through swallowing it or placing it on their skin.

Keep fentanyl patches locked up, away from children

A consumer warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes: “Children are particularly vulnerable to a fentanyl overdose because, unlike adults, they have not been exposed to this type of potent medicine before and are more vulnerable to its effects…Even after the patch is worn for three days, it may still retain more than 50 percent of the fentanyl.”

An overdose can cause death by slowing the child’s breathing and increasing blood levels of carbon dioxide. According to the FDA, there have been 26 cases of accidental exposure — mostly by children younger than two years old — since 1997. In 10 of those cases, the person died. Another 12 cases required hospitalization.

Five tips for storing fentanyl safely

Because of this danger, the FDA recently issued a safety alert warning patients, caregivers and health care professionals about the dangers of accidental exposure and improper storage and disposal of the patch. The agency recommends the following:

  1. Keep the patches in a secure location that is out of children’s sight and reach.
  2. When wearing the patch, consider covering it with an adhesive film to make sure it doesn’t come off.
  3. Regularly check to make sure the patch is still on throughout the day.
  4. Dispose of used patches by folding them in half so that the sticky sides meet and then flush the medication down the toilet.
  5. Don’t put used patches in the household trash where children or pets can easily find them.

Luckily, my neighbor’s daughter didn’t wander into Dad’s bathroom. However, Dad and I now know to make sure the fentanyl is put away and the bathroom door is closed when she visits the next time.

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