Chronic opioid use for pain relief or as substitution therapy for illicit drug abuse is prevalent in our societies. In the US, retail distribution of methadone and oxycodone has increased by 824 and 660%, respectively, between 1997 and 2003. μ-Opioids depress respiration and deaths related to illicit and non illicit chronic opioid use are not uncommon. Since 2001 there has been an emerging literature that suggests that chronic opioid use is related to central sleep apnoea of both periodic and non-periodic breathing types, and occurs in 30% of these subjects. The clinical significance of these sleep-related abnormalities are unknown. This review addresses the present knowledge of control of ventilation mechanisms during wakefulness and sleep, the effects of opioids on ventilatory control mechanisms, the sleep-disordered breathing found with chronic opioid use and a discussion regarding the future research directions in this area.

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