Opioid drug use has risen steadily over the past two decades at an alarming rate. The steady influx and over-prescription of opioid pain medicines has led to a spike in addiction—fueling a marked resurgence of heroine use, which is a closely related and far cheaper replacement for prescribed pills. Now, new, even more potent synthetic opioid derivatives, such as Fentanyl and Carfentanil, are cut into heroine to increase chances of addiction and overdose. Correspondingly, opioid overdoses have now become one of the leading causes of death in the United States, affecting individuals from all races and socio-economic backgrounds, with trends showing no sign of it stopping.
Due to the spike in emergency services needs and hospital visits around this epidemic, first responders and health care providers now find themselves at the front lines of the battle. Registered nurses, in particular, are finding that their qualifications and position lend to their playing a key role in helping to assess, diagnose, and manage patients who are fighting addiction.
The American Nurses Association recognizes the need for a comprehensive approach to stemming the tide of opioid use. While governmental and hospital systems are often calling for cuts from health care services, the ANA has highlighted the desperate need for expansion in a number of critical areas to better understand and deal with the opioid crisis.
An increased push for education and training for prescribers of such medications is needed to help stem the initial over-prescription of opioid medications. Furthermore, expanded access to medication-assisted treatments needs to be implemented to allow Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) to prescribe drug technologies such as buprenorphine as a means of battling addiction cravings.
To work in tandem with re-education of prescribers and treatment access, a far greater investment in scientific and clinical research of addiction-resistant pain-deterrents should be pursued. Opioids do serve a needed function in our medical system, but non-addictive technologies for pain management exist and require further experimentation as a public health priority.
Furthermore, the drug Naloxone, has proven to be an effective lifesaver for overdose victims, and the ANA calls for an increase in access for first responders, family, friends, and nurse caregivers for ready use with chronic opioid users.
The stigma that surrounds addiction needs to change. Along with the increased education of systems and techniques for dealing with opioid abuse, comes a more general need for education and understanding around the dangers and diagnosis of this insidious disease. Nurses recognize that until we as a society acknowledge the universal threat that opioid abuse presents, we cannot fully rise together to meet and master this public health challenge head on.
Pro-Cure Health Design