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Nearly 50% of Nurses See Opioids as a Top Population Health Concern

Nurses and other healthcare professionals expect opioid abuse to have a detrimental effect on population health over the next five years.

Nearly 50 percent of nurses see opioids as a top population health concern

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

- Forty-seven percent of registered nurses (RNs) named opioid abuse as one of the top three healthcare crises that will have the worst impact on population health in the next five years, a recent survey from the University of Phoenix revealed.

Fifty-one percent of administrative staff and 35 percent of US adults not employed in healthcare said the same.

In addition to opioid abuse, respondents named rising healthcare costs and a lack of access to affordable insurance as significant problems.

“Having all groups indicate that opioid abuse is a top concern reinforces how, while this topic continues to dominate headlines, more work is needed to reduce this number and find alternative treatment methods,” said Holly Orozco, Dr. PH, dean for the College of Humanities and Sciences at University of Phoenix.

“To make meaningful progress on this issue, we need to know what treatment methods people are currently using, understand the training healthcare professionals have to pinpoint potential addictions, and do more research on how to improve both training and access to appropriate treatments for those who suffer from pain.”

On average, RNs who responded to the survey said that 48 percent of patients ask about using opioids to manage pain. When asked what methods patients are using to manage their pain, 64 percent of RNs said prescription drugs not including opioids, such as Xanax or Ritalin, while 46 percent said homeopathic remedies.  

However, when patients themselves were asked the same question, just 30 percent said they were using non-opioid prescription drugs to manage pain, and only 17 percent named homeopathic remedies as their method of choice.

Although more than 80 percent of patients said they are honest with their providers about how they manage pain, these results indicate otherwise.

“This data shows an inherent disconnect between what healthcare professionals are seeing in the field and what their patients are telling them regarding how they honestly manage pain,” said Dr. Orozco.

“It is essential that healthcare professionals understand the inherent differences between true addiction and chronic pain, and the nuances on how to treat both that exist. All professionals in the healthcare industry, from those prescribing medication to those filling them, must know what the signs of addiction are and how to recognize them in order to effectively combat the opioid crisis.”

Over 60 percent of RNs and 43 percent of administrative staff said they have received formal training to recognize the difference between chronic pain and addiction, and that they frequently use it.

In addition to discerning between addiction and pain, a knowledge of alternative pain treatment methods can help combat the opioid epidemic. Opioid abuse is often significantly tied to a patient’s social and economic circumstances, and using techniques that address both physical and psychological symptoms may be an effective way to stop opioid addiction before it begins.

However, just fifty-six percent of RNs said they have received training on holistic chronic pain management techniques, and only 42 percent of administrative staff said the same.

Healthcare providers strongly believe that holistic approaches need to be used more frequently to address the pervasive socioeconomic and mental health concerns that often lead to opioid abuse. Ninety-four percent of RNs and 81 percent of administrative staff agreed that these holistic approaches are underused in healthcare settings, with providers often choosing a quick opioid fix instead.

Addressing this issue will require the healthcare industry to focus on caring for the whole patient, physically and mentally, Dr. Orozco said.

“Knowing that healthcare professionals feel that techniques designed to combat opioid addiction are not being used is concerning,” she concluded.

“It is our responsibility to ensure this group is able to effectively use their formal and on-the-job training to pinpoint if patients suffer from opioid abuse and, if so, how they can help them. This often begins with understanding and treating mental health issues that could serve as the underlying cause for opioid abuse.”

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