Barriers to prescribing opioids in the management of chronic breathlessness in COPD: A review: A Review

Emma Keogh, E Mark Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In people with COPD breathlessness is a common symptom and if mistreated can result in poor physical health and reduced quality of life. While it is important to manage the breathlessness using non-pharmacological management, persistent breathlessness may be treated with opioids. However, some physicians are reluctant to prescribe opioids to manage breathlessness in COPD. The aim of this review is to report the views, attitudes and barriers (if any) of healthcare professionals towards using opioids to manage chronic breathlessness in COPD. A review of the relevant literature was undertaken, using CINAHL, ScienceDirect and PubMed databases. The selected literature was assessed for quality of study design and methods used. Eleven studies (three qualitative, three mixed-methods and five quantitative) were reviewed and three themes were identified. Opioid use for refractory breathlessness in COPD is likely under prescribed by health care professionals working in areas other than palliative care. Additionally, there is a lack of confidence in using opioids except in those with palliative care experience, who are more likely to believe opioids may be helpful. Barriers identified are a lack of training, education, inadequate guidelines and concerns surrounding respiratory depression and other side effects. Research on this topic is mainly comprised of interviews or surveys and is low to moderate quality. Further clinical trials are needed on this topic including the opinions of all prescribing health care professionals involved in the care of these patients. Additionally, guidelines should offer further advice on when to start opioids and which patients would benefit most from opioids.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2000956
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Issue number00
Early online date11 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2021


  • COPD
  • breathlessness
  • palliative care
  • respiratory care
  • prescribing


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