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Fentanyl: A Potentially Fatal Pain Treatment

On August 10, 2009, Watson Pharmaceuticals announced a recall of one lot of 100 mcg fentanyl patches because gel can leak out onto the skin. Even a small amount of fentanyl coming into contact with the skin can result in an overdose with serious side effects such as breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, dizziness, confusion, and inability to walk, talk or think normally or even death.

The drug, which is best known under the brand name Duragesic, is a powerful narcotic gel used primarily to alleviate chronic severe pain. Fentanyl is contained in patches manufactured and/or sold by Johnson & Johnson, Pricara, Janssen, ALZA, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Mylan (generic), Activis, and Sandoz.

After at least 120 reported deaths were linked to an overdose delivered from patches, in 2005 the Food and Drug Administration warned the public and medical professionals about its risks. Because the FDA continued to receive information about serious side effects and deaths attributed to the drug, it issued another alert in 2007. However, the drug still remains on the market.

While we don’t know the total number of fentanyl lawsuits filed or the number of confidential settlements, three recent jury verdicts have all been delivered in favor of the plaintiffs:

  • A jury in Florida awarded $13.3 million to the family of a 34-year-old woman who died of a fentanyl overdose after back surgery.
  • Another Florida jury handed down a $5.5 million verdict in favor of the family of a 28-year-old man who died while using the patch.
  • A Chicago jury found Johnson & Johnson liable in the death of an Illinois woman and returned a verdict of $16.5 million in favor of the woman’s family.

If you take fentanyl, it is extremely important that you strictly follow the doctor’s instructions and observe all of the warnings on the label.

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