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Ann Emerg Med. 1989 Jun;18(6):635-9.

The safety of fentanyl use in the emergency department.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Ohio 45267-0769.


Fentanyl citrate is a synthetic narcotic 1,000 times as potent as meperidine. It produces minimal hemodynamic effects and is characterized by a rapid onset of sedation and analgesia, a relatively short duration of action (approximately 30 to 40 minutes), and rapid reversal with opiate antagonists. These properties make fentanyl an ideal drug for emergency department use. The safety of fentanyl use in an adult ED population has not previously been studied. We retrospectively reviewed the charts of 841 patients who received fentanyl at the University of Cincinnati Center for Emergency Care between January 1985 and June 1988. The study population included 497 (59%) men and 344 (41%) women, with an average age of 33 years. The average dose of fentanyl was 180 micrograms (range, 25 to 1,400 micrograms). Six patients (1%) experienced mild side effects including nausea (one), emesis (two), urticaria (one), and pruritus (two). Nine patients (1%) developed more serious complications including six cases (0.7%) of respiratory depression and three cases (0.4%) of hypotension. Two of 183 patients (1%) who received midazolam and two of nine patients (22%) who received haloperidol developed respiratory depression. Four of the six patients with respiratory depression and two of the three patients with hypotension were intoxicated. All of the complications were transient, and none resulted in hospitalization. We conclude that fentanyl is a safe drug for use in the ED. To maximize safety, we recommend careful dosing and titration, close patient monitoring, and the availability of naloxone hydrochloride and resuscitation equipment.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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