The fentanyl patch is one of the great commercial successes in transdermal drug delivery. The suitability of this molecule for delivery through skin had been identified in the 1970s, and subsequently, a number of transdermal formulations became available on the market. This article reviews the development of fentanyl patch technology with particular emphasis on the pharmacokinetics and disposition of the drug when delivered through the skin. The various patch designs are considered as well as the bioequivalence of the different designs. The influence of heat on fentanyl permeation is highlighted. Post-mortem redistribution of fentanyl is discussed in light of the reported discrepancies in serum levels reported in patients after death compared with therapeutic levels in living subjects. Finally, alternatives to patch technology are considered, and recent novel transdermal formulations are highlighted.
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