Chapter 1: Medication types and uses

The role of opioids

She was pretty stoic about pain. When she did mention it, it was often difficult to tell what it was, even for her doctor.

For moderate to severe pain, a healthcare provider may prescribe opioids for the person you are caring for. Opioids may also be prescribed to help with shortness of breath.

Addressing pain early is the best way to manage a person’s pain. Opioids are very effective for treating pain. They are started at a low dose and then gradually increased as needed. Opioids are often prescribed with other medications to manage a person’s pain.

Click the arrows below to see the names of some commonly used opioids.

Opioid medications such as morphine, hydromorphone, or fentanyl might be prescribed to help reduce the feeling of “air hunger” or shortness of breath. If the person is already taking opioids to control pain, their healthcare provider might adjust the person’s opioid dose.

Sometimes healthcare providers may be worried about prescribing opioids to a person with breathing problems because they are afraid it will make the breathing problems worse or weaken the person’s signals to breathe. However, studies have shown that careful and supervised use of opioids in people with advanced lung disease improves their shortness of breath and is safe.