Background: For patients in late stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), dyspnea is often refractory to conventional treatment. We know little about the use of opioids in ameliorating dyspnea in this population. In this study we explored factors associated with opioid dispensation within the last year of life and differences in opioid dispensation for persons with lung cancer or COPD.
Methods: In this retrospective cohort study we used administrative health data gained from 1,035 residents of Saskatchewan, Canada to examine patterns of community opioid dispensation in the last year of life. Factors associated with opioid use were determined using multiple logistic regression.
Results: When compared with those with lung cancer, fewer patients with COPD were given opioids within the last week of life; the last month of life, and the last 3 months of life. After adjusting for relevant predictors, patients with lung cancer were more than twice as likely as those with COPD to fill prescriptions for the following: morphine (odds ratio [OR] 2.36, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.52-3.67); hydromorphone (OR 2.69, 95% CI: 1.53-4.72); transdermal fentanyl (OR 2.25, 95% CI: 1.28-3.98); or any of these opioids (OR 2.61, 95% CI: 1.80-3.80).
Conclusion: These opioids are dispensed only for a small proportion of patients with COPD at the end of their lives. Future researchers could explore the efficacy and safety of opioid use for patients with advanced COPD, and whether their limited use is justified.
Keywords: COPD; dyspnea; lung cancer; opioid dispensation; palliative care.