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FDA 101: Medication Errors

Examples of Medication Errors continued...

Misuse of Fentanyl Patches:
FDA has issued warnings about the fentanyl transdermal system, an adhesive patch that delivers an opioid called fentanyl through the skin. An opioid is a potent pain medicine. It is also sometimes called a narcotic drug. Other examples of opioids include hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone.

The directions on the product label and package insert of the fentanyl transdermal system should be followed exactly in order to avoid overdose. Fentanyl patches should not be used for short-term acute pain, pain that is not constant, or for pain after an operation. The patch is only for moderate-to-severe chronic pain that is expected to last for any number of weeks or longer and that cannot be managed by acetaminophen-opioid combinations, nonsteroidal analgesics, or as-needed dosing with short-acting opioids.

Fentanyl patches are mostly prescribed for patients with cancer. Recent reports to FDA describe deaths and life-threatening side effects after doctors and other health care professionals inappropriately prescribed the patch to relieve pain after surgery, for headaches, or for occasional or mild pain in patients who were not opioid tolerant.

In other cases, patients have used the patch incorrectly. The patients replaced the patch more frequently than directed in the instructions, applied more patches than prescribed, or applied heat to the patch. All of these cases resulted in dangerously high fentanyl levels in the blood.

For more information, see FDA Issues Second Safety Warning on Fentanyl Skin Patch

Overdoses with Methadone:
FDA has issued a public health advisory cautioning practitioners to avoid overdoses when they are prescribing methadone or managing patients taking the drug.

Since the 1970s, methadone has been primarily used in treating drug abuse, but it is increasingly being used to treat pain. FDA issued the advisory because of reports of life-threatening adverse events and death in patients receiving methadone for pain control. Like other opioids, methadone causes slowed breathing, affects heart rate, and can also interact with other drugs. An overdose can occur because methadone stays in the body longer than the pain relief lasts.

Mix-ups Between Edetate Disodium and Edetate Calcium Disodium:
Both edetate disodium and edetate calcium disodium work by binding with heavy metals or minerals in the body, allowing them to be passed out of the body through the urine. Edetate calcium disodium was approved to treat severe lead poisoning. Edetate disodium was approved as an emergency treatment for certain patients with very high levels of calcium in the blood or certain patients with heart rhythm problems resulting from high amounts of the medication digoxin in the blood.

But a number of uses that are not approved by FDA have emerged. These include the removal of other heavy metals from the blood and the treatment of heart disease, commonly referred to as "chelation therapies."

WebMD Public Information from the FDA