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J&J Q3: Duragesic Sales Down 20% Following Fentanyl Patch Death Warnings

Doctors may finally be getting the message about dangers associated with fentanyl patches, if Johnson & Johnson's Q3 2009 earnings are any indication. While J&J saw revenues fall 5.3 percent to $15 billion and net income rise 1.1 percent to $3.3 billion, the numbers were much more dramatic on the line for Duragesic, J&J's fentanyl patch.

Duragesic sales were down 20.5 percent worldwide to $206 million over the last three months. For the last nine months, sales were down 14.3 percent -- in other words, the dropoff in Duragesic is accelerating.

The declines come after a series of deaths and lawsuits associated with fentanyl patches. BNET noted in August that there have been at least six safety recalls of fentanyl patches. (That story also discusses whether patches in general are a good idea for delivering medicine.) J&J has twice issues recalls of Duragesic in the last two years.

More recently, a 15-year-old boy died of a fentanyl overdose after he was prescribed it as a painkiller following a tooth extraction. Fentanyl patches are only approved for people who have developed a tolerance for opium-derived painkillers.

The FDA published a second warning in 2007 about fentanyl patches:

FDA has continued to receive reports of deaths and life-threatening side effects after doctors have inappropriately prescribed the patch or after people incorrectly used it.
The sales declines are even more curious because fentanyl is powerfully addictive. (You can spend an entertaining half hour Googling "fentanyl" to read news stories about addicts and dealers charged with abusing it.)

A decline in its use -- except for patients who are really suffering from debilitating pain -- can only be a good thing.

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