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Narcotic Lollipop OKd for Severe Cancer Pain

November 16, 1998|SALLY SQUIRES | WASHINGTON POST

Cancer patients taking narcotics will soon have a new alternative in treating severe pain: a raspberry-flavored lollipop that delivers an opioid more powerful than morphine.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Actiq last week for cancer patients experiencing sudden, "breakthrough" pain that oral narcotics can't control. Actiq contains a potent narcotic, fentanyl citrate, which is delivered in a sugar-flavored lozenge held by an attached handle like a lollipop.

Patients dissolve the lozenge slowly in their mouth until the medicine is consumed, which takes about 15 minutes. Pain relief can begin while Actiq is still being consumed and lasts for several hours afterward.

Because of the potential for abuse of Actiq--and its dangers and appeal to children--the FDA required its makers, the Anesta Corp. and Abbott Laboratories, to guarantee special precautions. Fentanyl citrate is a such a powerful narcotic, according to the FDA, that it could be fatal to healthy children or adults who consume it. Even in cancer patients already taking narcotics, the drug can have side effects including sleepiness, dizziness, nausea and constipation.

Doctors who prescribe Actiq will receive warnings limiting prescriptions of the drug only to cancer patients who are already on narcotics. Patients' families will be warned about the potential for misuse, and the drug comes in a locked fanny pack. All prescriptions are accompanied by a lock for the medicine chest, and the childproof packages can only be opened with scissors. A container is also provided to dispose of partially used medication, according to FDA spokeswoman Laura Bradbard.

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