Are Nurses Fueling the Opioid Crisis?

In nursing school we are taught that pain is the fifth vital sign, next to temperature, respirations, heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation levels. We are also taught that pain is what the patient says it is, leading us to constantly ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10. We are asked to re-evaluate their pain after our interventions, leading us to often tell the physician that a patient’s pain isn’t well-controlled. On top of this, our hospitals are reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid based on patient’s pain control through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores. With all this focus on pain, combined with the monetary incentives to control pain, is it any wonder that so many people are addicted to pain medications?

Our intense focus of alleviating a patient’s pain in all ways possible has lead to many patients becoming addicted within the hospital system. When they can no longer get opioid prescription medication, they turn to illegal drugs like heroin. Many of my patients come in with abscesses from heroin injections. According to the American Nurses Association:

  • 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose
  • At least half of all opioid overdoses involved a prescribed medicine
  • Sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, but the overall amount of pain Americans report has not changed
  • Heroin-related overdose deaths have more than tripled since 2010

As nurses, we should advocate for more drug-free ways to relieve pain. After all, pain is a part of life, but so many people are afraid to feel it. There are alternative pain treatments out there, such as meditation, acupuncture, guided imagery, hypnosis, exercise, and so many more. Hospital treatments are almost solely focused on medication, and it’s time for that to change if we want to rid ourselves of the opioid epidemic in this country.

 

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One thought on “Are Nurses Fueling the Opioid Crisis?

  1. Cannot help but feel it will take (the loss) of a major lawsuit against the Pharmaceutical, Insurance, and Medical industries before any change is realized. Too often it seems the easiest, and most financially beneficial answer is to write another prescription. The hard and difficult option(s), and thus the ones usually not taken are like you mentioned. Seemingly the healthcare system needs an overhaul; upon which ‘caring’ for the patient comes to the forefront. Quality of life doesn’t seem to matter anymore; only medicines to dull pain and prolong life. Not sure that policy is working…

    Liked by 1 person

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