Published: 5 April 2022

Authors: Xinye Chen,Thomas Moran,Natasha Smallwood

Source: This abstract has been sourced from NZ Respiratory Research Review Issue 198



    Chronic breathlessness is a disabling symptom that is often under-recognised and challenging to treat despite optimal disease-directed therapy. Low-dose, oral opioids are recommended to relieve breathlessness, but little is known regarding long-term opioid prescription in this setting.


    To investigate the long-term efficacy of, and side-effects from, opioids prescribed for chronic breathlessness to patients with advanced, non-malignant, respiratory diseases.


    A prospective cohort study of all patients managed by the advanced lung disease service, an integrated respiratory and palliative care service, at the Royal Melbourne Hospital from 1 April 2013 to 3 March 2020.


    One hundred and nine patients were prescribed opioids for chronic breathlessness. The median length of opioid use was 9.8 (interquartile range (IQR) = 2.8–19.8) months. The most commonly prescribed initial regimen was an immediate-release preparation (i.e. Ordine) used as required (37; 33.9%). For long-term treatment, the most frequently prescribed regimen included an extended-release preparation with an as needed immediate-release (37; 33.9%). The median dose prescribed was 12 (IQR = 8–28) mg oral morphine equivalents/day. Seventy-one (65.1%) patients reported a subjective improvement in breathlessness. There was no significant change in the mean modified Medical Research Council dyspnoea score (P = 0.807) or lung function measurements (P = 0.086–0.727). There was no association between mortality and the median duration of opioid use (P = 0.201) or dose consumed (P = 0.130). No major adverse events were reported.


    Within this integrated respiratory and palliative care service, patients with severe, non-malignant respiratory diseases safely used long-term, low-dose opioids for breathlessness with subjective benefits reported and no serious adverse events.

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