We use opioid patches to manage your pain. The opioid patches we use contain strong medicines, including buprenorphine or fentanyl. It's important to follow our guidance about using the patches safely. You should:
- apply and use your patches safely
- change your patches safely
- store and dispose of your patches safely
- look out for any signs of addiction
You can always discuss your patch treatment with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. You can ask questions about:
- the length of treatment
- side effects
- what to do if your pain is not controlled, or gets worse, while you're wearing your patch
Using opioid patches safely
You should read the leaflet supplied with your patches, and ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about anything you do not understand. Follow the instructions on the leaflet.
Be careful not to damage the patch when you remove it from its sachet.
It is helpful to keep a record of where on your body you have applied your patches. Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you have problems with your patches not sticking properly.
- keep the empty sachet to put the used patch in, when you dispose of it
- wash your hands after handling a patch
- stick your patch on a clean, dry, flat, hairless area of skin (you can clip your body hair with scissors, but do not shave it)
- choose somewhere easy to reach, such as the top of your chest or arm (you do not have to stick the patch where your pain is)
- wear your patch all the time, so it can give you long-lasting pain relief
- check your patch every day to make sure it remains stuck in place, especially around the edges
- put creams or lotions on your skin, as they can stop the patch sticking to you
- put a patch on any inflamed or broken areas of skin, or skin that shows signs of a rash
- run out of patches (get a repeat prescription from your doctor in plenty of time)
Driving with opioid patches
Some of the side effects of opioid patches can make driving unsafe. Do not drive if you:
- feel drowsy
- feel dizzy
- feel unable to concentrate or make decisions
- have blurred or double vision
When you start using opioid patches, or the dose (amount) is changed, do not drive until you know how they affect you.
It is your responsibility to make sure you are fit to drive. If you are not sure about your ability to drive, speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
Drinking alcohol with opioid patches
If you drink alcohol while you are using an opioid patch, you might find this exaggerates the effects of alcohol. You might feel drunk much more quickly than usual, or feel sleepy.
It is sensible to drink much less than you are used to, until you know what sort of effect opioid patches have on you. Always speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are not sure.
Risk of heating your opioid patch
Heating your patch while wearing it can cause a dangerous amount of medicine to come out of the patch, leading to an overdose. Make sure you:
- do not place hot water bottles or heat pads directly over the patch while it is on
- do not soak in a hot bath or use saunas
Your patch might also release too much medicine if you have a high temperature (fever), or if you get very hot after physical activity or being out in hot weather.
Phone 999 for an ambulance if:
you have any of these signs of an overdose:
- your breathing feels slowed or shallow
- you feel drowsy or confused, and might be seeing or hearing things you know are not there (hallucinations)
- your muscles are jerking or twitching without your control
Take the patch off and immediately phone 999 for an ambulance. Make anyone you live with aware of the symptoms, so that they can get help for you if necessary.
Opioid patches and other appointments
Always tell the doctor, nurse or ambulance paramedic you are wearing an opioid patch when you go to a clinic or into hospital.
Remind your pharmacist when you collect your prescriptions or buy medicines from a pharmacy or shop.
Changing your opioid patches
When you change your patch, take your old patch off before sticking the new patch on. Carefully dispose of the old patch.
Stick your new patch on immediately, on a different area of skin. You can then switch between these 2 sites each time you change your patch.
When you change your patch, try to do it at the same time of day. Think of ways to remind yourself. You could write the time on your calendar, or on the patch itself (using a soft-tip, permanent marker pen), or you could store the times on a phone app.
You can shower when wearing a patch, but try not to get the patch too wet. Always make sure the patch stays firmly stuck to your skin afterwards.
If your patch peels or falls off, replace it with a fresh patch immediately. You should stick the fresh patch on a different area of skin. Continue to change this patch on your usual day and time.
Keep your opioid patches in a safe place, out of sight and out of reach of children.
Used opioid patches contain medicine that can be harmful. You must dispose of them carefully so that they do not accidentally stick to another person, or family pet.
Immediately after you remove the patch, fold it with the sticky sides inwards so that the adhesive side of the patch sticks to itself. Make sure there are no parts of adhesive showing. If there are, fold the patch again to cover them up.
Put the used patch back in the sachet it came in. If you have a specially designed medicine waste box (usually yellow), put the patch in that. If you do not have one, you can put the folded opioid patch in the normal household waste.
If you need to dispose of any patches that have not been used, take them to your local pharmacy. This might be because you are not using them any more, or they have gone past their expiry date.
Make sure your used patches cannot be taken from the household bins by mistake. For example by children, vulnerable adults, or pets. If this is not possible, ask your GP to provide you with a supply of medicine waste boxes and instructions on how to use and dispose of them.
If your patch is missing, make sure it has not stuck to another person or animal by mistake. Patches that accidentally stick to another person can cause them serious harm.
Phone 999 for an ambulance if:
- your patch accidentally sticks to another person as it can cause them serious harm
If this happens, take the patch off immediately and phone 999.
Addiction to opioid painkillers
Your patches will include a warning that they contain an opioid, and that opioids can become addictive.
There is a risk that you might become addicted to, or dependent on, opioids. You must use only these medicines as directed. You should try to reduce your dose as soon as possible, and your doctor will need to help manage this.
You might be more likely to get addicted to opioids if you:
- take them when you are not in pain
- have been addicted to opioids (including heroin) or other drugs (or alcohol) before
- have severe depression or anxiety
This does not mean that you will become addicted. It just means that you might be more likely to become addicted than someone who has not had these problems.
Having a greater risk does not mean you cannot use opioid patches. Your doctor needs to know about your past and current medicines or addictions, so that they can prescribe opioids safely, and to help you look out for warning signs of addiction.
Stopping or reducing opioid patches
Depending on the dose you are on, your patches might have to be gradually reduced by your doctor. Do not stop using your opioid patches suddenly as you might get withdrawal symptoms.
Do not cut your patches or change the length of time you wear them for.
Always speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist so that they can safely manage any changes to your treatment.
Resource number: 5324
Last reviewed: October 2022
Next review: October 2025