Controlled-Release Oxycodone vs. Placebo in the Treatment of Chronic Breathlessness—A Multisite Randomized Placebo Controlled Trial

Diana H. Ferreira, Sandra Louw, Philip McCloud, Belinda Fazekas, Christine F. McDonald, Meera R. Agar, Katherine Clark, Nikki McCaffrey, Magnus Ekström, David C. Currow, Australian National Palliative Care Clinical Studies Collaborative (PaCCSC)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Context: Chronic breathlessness is a clinical syndrome that results in significant distress and disability. Morphine can reduce chronic breathlessness when the contributing etiologies are optimally treated. 

Objectives: Does oxycodone reduce chronic breathlessness compared with placebo? 

Methods: A multisite, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, parallel-arm, fixed-dose trial of oral controlled-release oxycodone 15 mg (5 mg, eight hourly) or placebo (ACTRN12609000806268 at As-needed immediate-release morphine (2.5 mg per dose; six and less doses/day) was available for both arms as required by one ethics committee overseeing the trial. Recruitment occurred from 2010 to 2014 in 14 inpatient and outpatient respiratory, cardiology, and palliative care services across Australia. Participants were adults, with chronic breathlessness (modified Medical Research Council Scale 3 or 4), who were opioid naive. The primary end point was the proportion of people with greater than 15% reduction from baseline in the intensity of breathlessness now (0–100 mm visual analogue scale) comparing arms Days 5–7. Secondary end points were average and worst breathlessness, quality of life, function, and harms. 

Results: Of 157 participants randomized, 155 were included (74 oxycodone and 81 placebo), but the study did not reach target recruitment. There was difference in neither between groups for the primary outcome (P = 0.489) nor any of the prespecified secondary outcomes. Placebo participants used more as-needed morphine (mean 7.0 vs. 4.2 doses; P ≤ 0.001). Oxycodone participants reported more nausea (P < 0.001). 

Conclusion: There was no signal of benefit from oxycodone over placebo. Future research should focus on investigating the existence of an opioid class effect on the reduction of chronic breathlessness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-589
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number3
Early online date23 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Chronic breathlessness
  • effectiveness study
  • oxycodone
  • palliative care
  • placebo study
  • randomized controlled trial
  • symptom control


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