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Fentanyl Patch Is Effective Next Step After Weak Opioids

Fentanyl Patch Is Effective Next Step After Weak Opioids

ORLANDO—European researchers have shown that transdermal fentanyl
(Duragesic) is as effective as sustained-release morphine and better tolerated
when given to strong-opioid-naïve patients with chronic cancer pain, according
to a poster presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 38th
Annual Meeting (abstract 1506).

"We showed that it is safe and effective to go straight from weak
opioids to transdermal fentanyl or sustained-release morphine in this
population," said Dr. Carol Davis, consultant in palliative medicine and
director of research, Countess Mountbatten House, Moorgreen Hospital,
Southampton, UK.

Dr. Davis and her colleagues at the Free University of Amsterdam pooled data
from two open-label, randomized, parallel, 4-week studies enrolling 312
patients with chronic cancer pain; 170 were 65 years of age or older.

"All were on full-dose weak opioids," Dr. Davis said.
"Instead of titrating to immediate-release morphine, we randomized
straight from weak opioids to 30 mg of sustained-release morphine every 12
hours or 25 µg/h transdermal fentanyl every 72 hours." Of the 312
patients, 159 received fentanyl and 153 morphine. Patients were assessed at
baseline, day 7, and day 28.

Patients in both arms were given gradually higher doses as needed to obtain
pain control. The mean maximum dose of transdermal fentanyl was 65 µg/h
(range, 25 to 400 µg/h). Sustained-release morphine dosages were increased by
30% to 50% after a minimum of 12 hours. The mean maximum dose was 97 mg (range,
30 to 400 mg).

Both groups were given immediate-release morphine as rescue medicine. More
patients in the transdermal fentanyl arm needed breakthrough medication,
possibly due to the low starting dose. "Several prior studies have shown
that the conversion table for switching patients to transdermal fentanyl may be
too conservative," Dr. Davis said.

Pain was the same in both arms, as rated by patients in diaries and weekly
assessments, she said. However, more patients from the morphine arm than the
fentanyl arm withdrew from the study (37% vs 14%). The withdrawal rates in the
elderly subpopulation were 41% and 11%, respectively. Most withdrew within 1 to
2 weeks of starting the study.

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