The Opioid Crisis and the Role of the Nurse

By Kim Maryniak, PhD, RNC-NIC, NEA-BCOpioid Crisis

In the United States, it is now unavoidable to see or hear news about the opioid crisis. Pain is a common occurrence with patients, whether it is acute or chronic. It is estimated that approximately 25 million adults in the United State suffer from chronic pain on a daily basis, and about 126 million adults experience recurrence of pain. Today there are an estimated two million adults who have an opioid use or misuse disorder, which may or may not be a result of prescriptions for pain management (St. Marie, Arnstein, & Zimmer, 2018). Illicit use of opioids is also a factor with opioid abuse, including nonmedical use and diversion. Statistics of dependence and drug overdose deaths have been on an upward trend, and it is truly alarming (American Nurses Association [ANA], 2018).

Nurses are at the forefront of patient care, and have the unique ability to assist during this time of national urgency. Nursing practice, including advanced practice, can contribute to improving patient outcomes. Pain management is essential, and nurses should be educated on all aspects of this important issue.

Pain assessment includes much more than just asking about a number; it should include history, physical, and biopsychosocial assessment strategies. Interventions for pain management should include multiple modalities, such as pharmacological and non-pharmacological strategies. Multidisciplinary teams must be involved in pain management, with inclusion of the patient and family as part of the team. Patient and family education includes information about setting appropriate goals for pain management, available treatments and resources, and risks of opioid use.

Prescription monitoring is important for identifying opioid misuse. Nurses and advanced nurses can assist in prevention and early recognition of opioid abuse. Appropriate interventions can assist with recovery for individuals suffering from this issue. Nurses must also be aware that there is a risk of undertreating pain, and must advocate for appropriate management strategies (ANA, 2018; St. Marie, Arnstein, & Zimmer, 2018). For more information on pain management, refer to courses available through RN.com.

American Nurses Association. (2018). The opioid epidemic: The evolving role of nursing. Retrieved from:  https://www.nursingworld.org/~4a4da5/globalassets/practiceandpolicy/work-environment/health--safety/opioid-epidemic/2018-ana-opioid-issue-brief-vfinal-pdf-2018-08-29.pdf 

St. Marie, B., Arnstein, P., & Zimmer, P. (2018). Pain and opioids: Call for policy action. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 14(1), 40-44. 

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