Intranasal fentanyl in the palliative care of newborns and infants

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2013 Aug;46(2):265-74. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2012.07.009. Epub 2012 Sep 25.


Context: Perinatal palliative care is an area of increasing focus among clinicians supporting newborns and their families. Although not every newborn will survive the neonatal period, assuring their comfort and quality of life remains an imperative for their care providers. It can be challenging to administer medications such as opioids in a minimally invasive yet effective manner.

Objectives: To describe the experience using intranasal (IN) fentanyl in the management of distress in a case series of 11 dying neonates.

Methods: A retrospective chart review was undertaken of 58 consecutive referrals of newborns and infants aged six months or younger between November 2006 and July 2010 to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Pediatric Palliative Care Service to determine how often IN fentanyl was used and review documented responses after the medication.

Results: Of 58 referrals, IN fentanyl was used in 11 patients, in all cases for concerns regarding respiratory distress. Chart documentation indicated that fentanyl was tolerated well, with no circumstances of drug-related apnea and no occurrences of chest wall rigidity. In most cases, labored breathing and restlessness settled after medication administration. The average time from administration of the last dose of fentanyl until death was 61 minutes.

Conclusion: We found IN fentanyl, which can be administered in a variety of care settings, to be a minimally invasive means of palliating distress in dying newborns and infants. No adverse events related to its use were noted.

Keywords: Palliative care; dyspnea; fentanyl; infants; intranasal; neonatal; newborn; perinatal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Fentanyl / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Male
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / complications
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / diagnosis*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / drug therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Fentanyl