Using opioids to treat dyspnea in advanced COPD: Attitudes and experiences of family physicians and respiratory therapists

Joanne Young, Margaret Donahue, Morag Farquhar, Cathy Simpson, Graeme Rocker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To explore the experiences of family physicians and respiratory therapists in treating advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and their attitudes to the use of opioids for dyspnea in this context.

Design: Qualitative methodology using one-on-one semistructured interviews.

Setting: Southern New Brunswick (St Stephen to Sussex).

Participants: Ten family physicians and 8 respiratory therapists who worked in primary care settings.

Methods: Participant interviews were audiorecorded, transcribed verbatim, coded conceptually, and thematically analyzed using interpretive description.

Main findings: Participants reported that patients with advanced COPD often suffered from inadequate control of their dyspnea in advanced stages and that they saw the potential value of opioids in this context; however, family physicians described discomfort prescribing opioids. Barriers included insufficient knowledge, lack of education and guidelines, and fear of censure. Those with palliative care experience tended to be more comfortable with opioid prescribing.

Conclusion: Findings suggest an important need to address barriers related to more effective treatment of refractory dyspnea in advanced COPD. Further, findings indicate these efforts should focus on effective palliation and innovative educational initiatives, as well as the development, promotion, and uptake of evidence-based practice guidelines related to prescribing opioids for these patients.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e401–e407
Number of pages7
JournalCanadian Family Physician
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012

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