Dr Ted Stanley, a professor of anaesthesiology at the University of Utah, popularised Fentanyl for medical use through a lollipop-like creation. Invented by Dr Stanley and Brian I. Hague in 1983, the Fentanyl lollipop has helped millions of cancer patients in reducing severe pain.

Dr Stanley has recently passed on, in Salt Lake City. He was 77. According to the University of Utah, the cause was prostate cancer complications.

The man behind the Fentanyl lollipop, Dr Theodore Stanley. Photo credit: The University of Utah, Department of Anaesthesiology
The man behind the Fentanyl lollipop, Dr Theodore Stanley. Photo credit: The University of Utah, Department of Anaesthesiology

Fentanyl lollipop: The brainchild of Ted Stanley

Born Theodore Henry Stanley on 4 Feb 1940, in Manhattan, Dr Stanley earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology, chemistry and music from Columbia College, in 1961.

Despite playing nine instruments and having a strong interest in baseball, Dr Stanley eventually pursued a medical career. He earned his medical degree from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Studying under a fellowship at the University of Utah, he planned to become a cardiac surgeon – majoring in anaesthesiology. In 1972, he joined the University of Utah, where he became a professor of surgical research and director of research in its School of Medicine.

According to Talmage Egan, chair of the University of Utah’s anaesthesiology department, Dr Stanley had revolutionised the use of opioids in anaesthesia. Egan further explained that in the mid-1970s, anaesthesiologists used either gases or morphine. While gases did not offer significant pain relief, morphine could cause low blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems.

Today, most anaesthesiologists use both gas and opioids together.

More than just a lollipop

Dr Stanley was initially conducting research with his colleagues in Sacramento, California. They were studying the immobilisation of big-game animals, like moose and elk, by using darts that contained opioid.

While they worked with their test subjects, a group of rhesus monkey, his colleague suggested that Carfentanil – a variation of Fentanyl – could be injected into a sugar cube for easy administration.

The sugar cube test worked.

Dr Stanley explained to Salt Lake City radio station KUER in 2010 that “monkeys like sugar cubes, and the monkeys loved this.”

Later Dr Stanley wondered if the discovery could be extended to human patients – especially children who often had extreme stress and anxiety before surgery.

This noble thought resulted in the creation of the Fentanyl lollipop. Just like a lollipop, it appears as a hardened fruit-flavoured lozenge on a plastic stick. However, it contains an additional ingredient – Fentanyl.

Fentanyl was synthesised by Paul Jansen in 1960. This synthetic drug is a powerful opioid pain medication. It is about 100 times stronger than morphine or oxycodone, and 50 times stronger than heroin.

The Fentanyl lollipop is prescribed mainly to ease pain relief in cancer patients. It has also been used for migraines and cluster headaches, severe back and bone pain, arthritis and other chronic issues.

Since patients may be averse to injections and the swallowing of pills, the Fentanyl lollipop serves as a brilliant alternative. Non-invasive and needle free, the invention may be either sucked or swabbed in the mouths of patients.

Fentanyl citrate works faster than a pill, and its onset can be as rapid as an injection – with absorption rate (into the bloodstream) within 20 minutes.

Popularising Fentanyl lollipops

The University of Utah’s business school encouraged Dr Stanley to start a company to sell his creation. With not much experience in business, Dr Stanley co-founded Anesta, with businessman Bill Moeller. This was the first of several pharmaceutical companies Dr Stanley created.

The company’s first product, Oralet, was aimed at children. Nonetheless, it did not garner much success.

Dr Stanley next found a market in his new product, Actiq. The drug was meant for adult cancer patients who suffered from “breakthrough pain” – an occasional pain that many opioids were unable to quell.

Gradually, Dr Stanley and his colleague patented the Fentanyl lollipop in 1985. In 1998, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Actiq. To differentiate it from candy, Actiq was sold in heavy foil packaging.

In 2015, a total of 6.5 million Fentanyl prescriptions were dispensed in the US. They were administered through sprays, tablets, patches, injections and Dr Stanley’s Fentanyl lollipop.

A prototype and packaging of Actiq, the brand name for Dr Stanley’s synthetic analgesic lollipop, in 1997. Photo credit: Associated Press/New York Times
A prototype and packaging of Actiq, the brand name for Dr Stanley’s synthetic analgesic lollipop, in 1997. Photo credit: Associated Press/New York Times

Illicit use of the Fentanyl lollipop

Like many noble medical inventions, this powerful opioid is vulnerable to abuse. If consumed inappropriately, even a small milligram of Fentanyl could lead to death from overdose. Opiate abusers often get the Fentanyl opioid through forged prescriptions, doctors who overprescribe fraudulently, distribution from illegal laboratories or stealing from pharmacies.

In the United States, Fentanyl was found in narcotics including heroin and counterfeit Oxycodones pills. Illicit users call it ‘perc-a-pop’ – based off the painkiller Percocet.

Trying to stop the illicit use of Fentanyl, Dr Stanley had cautioned New Jersey’s Courier that the illicit consumption of Fentanyl “is like maybe a two or three out of six chance (of dying).” MIMS

Read more:
Nobel Laureate Oliver Smithies leaves vast body of new work at age 91
The man and his accidental invention: The pacemaker
The man who created ibuprofen