Nurses Unite: Impacting Change Around the Opioid Epidemic

Jenny HarlettBlog

This week we come together to celebrate the bravery, compassion, and determination of nurses. There are currently more than four million nurses practicing in the United States, and they are some of the most trusted professionals across any industry. Amid today’s opioid epidemic, which has claimed the lives of over 70,000 Americans, the American Nurses Association (ANA) recognizes the critical role nurses can play in addressing the crisis and the various ways in which they help with assessing, diagnosing and managing patients battling addiction.

The CDC reports that there are around 50 million adults in the U.S. who suffer from chronic pain on a daily basis, with 20 million experiencing high impact pain. With so many patients in need of pain management, and years of headlines regarding questionable prescribing and distribution methods of opioid derived pain medications, it is no wonder that over two million adults battle addiction to prescription medications.

Nurses are on the frontline of patient care. With the appropriate education around pain assessment and management, these dedicated healthcare professionals have the ability to significantly improve the state of the opioid epidemic, one patient at a time.

Opioid Task Forces

Hospitals across the country are forming strategic groups to combat the opioid epidemic that include both personnel as well as technology. Nurses are particularly active in these initiatives at both the educational and operational levels.

For example, in 2017 Cleveland Clinic formed an Opioid Task Force where nurses could immerse themselves in the ongoing efforts of the hospital to fight the epidemic. As part of this effort, a clinical care group studies opioid prescribing patterns and how to treat addicted populations. Other programs focus on opioid alternative care. For example, nurses will enroll patients with chronic back pain in a 12-month program combining physical therapy and behavioral medicine.

Nurses across the country are embracing the opportunity to learn and become more informed about how to treat addiction. This way, they can share their learnings and experience with other nurses and the communities they serve. Cleveland Clinic’s opioid task force includes a Community Education effort where nurses lead information sessions at libraries, churches, schools, and community centers about the dangers of opioids. The more conversation, awareness, and education we are armed with, the better the chances are of reducing the rate of the epidemic.

While rehab and therapy are critical components of addiction treatment, many nurses are recognizing the benefits of treating the disease with medication. One life-saving treatment option is buprenorphine. This drug can be prescribed by both doctors and nurses who have taken specific training and received a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Unfortunately, nearly two million patients are unable to access these kinds of medications, due largely to a lack of nurses authorized to prescribe them, and compounded by the dwindling presence of physicians.

Treating the Disease

In California, for example, it’s predicted that the state will be short by 4,000 doctors in the next decade, according to a recent report. One way to address this is to expand the authority of nurse practitioners, including the ability to treat opioid addiction with medications. Nurses, particularly those working in an Emergency Department (ED) of a hospital, are keenly aware of the impact opioid addiction has on their specific patient population. While many view counseling or rehab as the ideal path to recovery, nurses also understand the impact medications can have for patients in recovery, particularly in conjunction with a program.

The ANA is working to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and has sought out to amend the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000) in order to provide Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) with the appropriate training needed to prescribe these life-saving medications. Expanding this program will safely and significantly increase access to MAT for patients in need.

How Kit Check is Helping Nurses

As nurses and other healthcare professionals come together to identify solutions to prevent and treat opioid addiction, Kit Check is hard at work providing hospitals with the appropriate tools to monitor and shepherd controlled substances.

Our Bluesight for Controlled Substances (BCS) solution provides pharmacists, nurses, and hospital administration with sophisticated, artificial intelligence-based software that picks up anomalous behavior indicative of healthcare professionals diverting medications for personal use or financial gain. In addition, our automated medication tray management solution uses RFID tagging technology to help hospital pharmacies gain better visibility into the controlled substances circulating the hospital.

Many hospitals today are adopting solutions like BCS as part of their strategy to better monitor medications being brought into and out of the hospital setting. Nurses utilizing our solution are able to track the controlled substances within the hospital, reducing the risk of addiction synthesized by diversion, and subsequently bolstering patient care.

While nurses and clinicians are typically viewed as care givers, they are equally at risk for opioid addiction, if not more so given the stress of their jobs and increased access to the drugs. Addiction comes in all shapes and sizes and affects not only the person abusing the medication but the people around them. If Kit Check’s Bluesight for Controlled Substances solution can help to identify nurses and other hospital staff who may be abusing opioids, and assist in kick-starting their recovery, then we feel we are making a difference to impact the overarching epidemic.