PACKAGING rules for fentanyl patches are being reviewed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration after two children were accidentally exposed to the powerful painkiller.
In the most serious Australian case, a boy lost consciousness after coming into contact with the drug patch, which is about 100 times stronger than morphine.
Although no Australian child is yet to lose their life in a patch mishap, there have been 12 deaths, of mostly babies and toddlers, in the US since 1997.
A boy aged two could not be resuscitated after reportedly picking up a patch while visiting his great-grandmother at a Wisconsin nursing home.
After two recent deaths, the US Food and Drug Administration decided to introduce a new rule requiring manufacturers to change the colour of writing on fentanyl patches.
Drug companies will now have to print the name and strength of the drug in long-lasting ink and a “clearly visible” colour.
The change is aimed at making transparent patches easier to see after the authority warned patches could fall off a patient’s skin and stick to others, including babies or pets.
Now Australia could follow in the US footsteps, despite the drug making headlines here for different reasons.
In Australia, fentanyl is better known for its role in the accidental deaths of dozens of drug users who have discovered ways to extract the drug from the patch, or slathered on multiple patches.
Fentanyl misuse has claimed at least 77 Australian lives since 2000, including 22 people in Victoria in the past 18 months.
On the black market, single patches can fetch upwards of $100 and there have been reports of gangs recruiting the elderly to build supplies.
Despite these reports, the administration said its review would focus on ways to reduce accidental misuse, rather than address cases of “deliberate misuse”.
Chief executive of Victorian drug agency Anex John Ryan said while any step to reduce misuse was welcome, there were more pressing priorities.
“The remote chance of a child accessing a used patch is nothing compared with far more widespread harm through black-market diversion,” Mr Ryan said.