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Canadian Study Finds Relief for COPD Patients in Opioids

Posted on May 09, 2012

A recent report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that prescribing opioids for COPD patients can help them to breathe more easily. 

However, it may be a while until doctors feel comfortable prescribing this narcotic painkiller for COPD. One doctor in the study said, ”. . . when I went to medical school, we were taught never to consider opioids in people with COPD. We were going to kill them. It was like if you gave them one dose of morphine, they would be dead and it would be your fault.”

However, the study may debunk former ideas about opioid painkillers and COPD patients. The Canadian study looked at eight patients in advanced stages of the disease who were struggling with shortness of breath (dyspnea) and needed oxygen. These patients had been using opioids from several months up to four years. The study also included 28 physicians and 12 caregivers, all in Nova Scotia.

Because dyspnea is one of the most difficult of COPD symptoms to treat, the study’s results bring good news. Some of the reports include:

  • A doctor reported, “Significant improvements to their quality of life, relief of dyspnea, or both.”
  • A patient said, “It takes away a lot of the struggle, you know. You’re not struggling to catch your next breath. You’re more relaxed.”
  • Another patient found that, “It seemed to give me a whole new outlook. Even though I didn’t do much walking around and that kind of stuff, I could still do more because I felt better . . . just all over felt better.”

In addition, the caregivers in the study noticed a real improvement in their patients. Overall, they found that opioids helped with mood, relaxation and overall wellbeing.

While these findings go against long-standing ideas about COPD care, it is hoped that the study will help to convince doctors to consider this kind of treatment.

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John L. Keefe
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