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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Take your medicine -- by a patch

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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Popular medications available in transdermal patches:
  • Nicotine patch
  • Narcotic pain medicines
  • Blood pressure drugs
  • Birth control hormones
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Scopolamine for motion sickness
  • (CNN) -- Some people who are trying to quit smoking use them. Others use them to deliver birth control medicine. Now, transdermal patches are becoming a popular way to take other medicines. CNN anchor Paula Zahn spoke with medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the patches' popularity and how well the devices work.

    ZAHN: Have you used (the transdermal patches)?

    GUPTA: I have not used them. A lot of people think of medication as taking pills or getting shots, but transdermal patches are becoming increasingly popular.

    We first heard about them with nitroglycerine for chest pain and scopolamine for motion sickness, but now there's a long list of medications that are now being used (through) transdermal patches. You've got the nicotine patches, the narcotic pain patch, the blood pressure drugs. The list goes on and on and on.

    And the big key to this thing and one of the biggest advantages of these transdermal patches is the ease of compliance -- they're a lot easier to use. Sometimes, you just have to remember once a week instead of once a day.

    Take a look at some of the other advantages of these transdermal patches. We'll get to the disadvantages as well, but look at the advantages:

    • A lower total dose of the medication is required.

    • Patches maintain an even level of medicine within the blood.

    • They may be cut to achieve more-precise dosing.

    • They are easy to use, leading to better compliance.

    There are some disadvantages of using these transdermal patches. Take a look at some of them:

    • Skin irritation can occur in some people. If that occurs, you may not be able to use the patches, period.

    • Sometimes they fall off, and sometimes you don't even know if they fell off.

    • Some patches cannot be immersed in water, but if you've been seeing the ad campaigns, like I have, you see women actually jumping into the swimming pool with some of these patches on.

    • Large patches might be visible, so that can be a bit of a problem cosmetically.

    But overall, (they are) very popular, and (are) becoming increasingly popular, and a lot of medications potentially (could be) used like this.

    ZAHN: There are a lot of these in development, too, right?

    Instead of a daily pill, women can apply birth control patches once a week.
    Instead of a daily pill, women can apply birth control patches once a week.

    GUPTA: There are some in development, and some of the ones in development are really exciting. Some of the medications (in development) are: overactive bladder medication, a male contraceptive, Parkinson's disease treatment, and methylphenidate for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). That's Ritalin.

    And (Ritalin) is a medication that people are really excited about (as a patch) ... (because it could keep) some of these kids from having to take the pills during the school year, or stuff like that. And the patches, as I mentioned, can be cut for more-precise dosing. ... Possibly by the end of next year, they say, ... Ritalin as a patch may be available.

    ZAHN: Which actually would be a great relief to parents and school administrators, who are responsible for helping administer those to kids in school to keep kids calm. Do you think that realistically any drug can be delivered this way?

    GUPTA: That's an interesting question, and the answer is, probably no. There are some limitations to the patch. Basically, without getting too science-y, the medication has to (be made of ) small-enough molecules (that it can) actually be absorbed across the skin. An example of a molecule that can't be done that way is insulin. Insulin, they say, is sort of the Holy Grail of transdermal medications. They'd love to get it into a transdermal form, but the insulin is just too big to be absorbed across the skin.

    So, bottom line, medications have to actually be small enough at the molecular structure to be transdermal.

    ZAHN: Keep us posted, doctor, as you always do.

    GUPTA: I will.

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