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Vivien Williams: Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller.

Mike Hooten, M.D. (Anethesiology, Mayo Clinic): It is many, many times more potent than morphine, oxycodone, oxycontin, Vicadin, dilaudid, hydromorphine, all these types of drugs.

Vivien Williams: Mayo Clinic pain management specialist Dr. Mike Hooten says fentanyl is used in operating rooms, and to control pain after surgery. It also alleviates pain for advanced cancer patients.

Mike Hooten, M.D.: The use of fentanyl for chronic pain, I think, is avoided by many thoughtful practitioners for a number of reasons. Number one, it's high potency.

Vivien Williams: Number two, fentanyl, which is delivered via IV, a patch or in a lozenge, can be dangerous if used inappropriately.

Mike Hooten, M.D.: The reason for that is the sedative effects.

Vivien Williams: If you take too much, combine it with certain other medications, or drink alcohol …

Mike Hooten, M.D.: It clearly can compromise respiratory function, and that is really the start of the accidental overdose cascade.

Vivien Williams: For the Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Vivien Williams.

March 22, 2018