Trends in the use of opioids at the end of life and the expected effects on hastening death

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2009 Feb;37(2):144-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2008.02.010. Epub 2008 Aug 9.


The aim of our study was to describe trends in opioid use and perceptions of having hastened the end of life of a patient. In 2005, a questionnaire was sent to 6860 physicians in The Netherlands who had attended a death. The response rate was 78%. In 1995 and 2001 similar studies were done. Physicians less often administered opioids with the intention to hasten death in 2005 (3.1% of the non-sudden deaths) than in 2001 and in 1995 (7% and 10%, respectively). Physicians gave similar dosages of opioids in 2005, 2001, and 1995, but physicians in 2005 less often thought that life was actually shortened than in 2001 and 1995 (37% in 2005, 50% in 2001, and 53% in 1995). Of the physicians in 2005 who did think that the life of the patient was shortened by opioids, 94% did not give higher dosages than were, in their own opinion, required for pain and symptom management. Physicians in 2005 more often took hastening death into account when they gave higher dosages of opioids when the patient experienced more severe symptoms and with female patients. In older patients (>or=80 years), physicians took the hastening of death into account more often, but the actual dosages of opioids were lower. These data indicate that physicians in The Netherlands less often thought that death was hastened by opioids and less often gave opioids, with the intention to hasten death in 2005 than in 2001 and 1995.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Decision Making
  • Euthanasia, Active / statistics & numerical data*
  • Euthanasia, Active / trends
  • Humans
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Pain / mortality*
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survival Analysis
  • Survival Rate
  • Terminal Care / statistics & numerical data*


  • Analgesics, Opioid