In 2011, more than 420,000 visits to the emergency department were due to the “misuse or abuse of narcotic pain relievers,” specifically opioids, cites the Centers for Disease Control. If we break those numbers down even further, we see that nearly 1,200 emergency (ED) visits per day could have been potentially be prevented if the opioid epidemic currently gripping the country had been addressed sooner.
Last week, I highlighted a series of tactics for fighting the opioid epidemic that Rachael Gordon, BSN, RN and her colleagues implemented at an Oregon ED to stem the tide in their area. This week we’ll look at four more strategies EDs can integrate into their treatment processes to help combat the opioid epidemic in their communities.
1. Connect with resources outside the ED.
When it comes to opioid dependence, it’s important for ED staff to be familiar with all the possible treatment and care options for patients available in their community. Organize a meeting with local addiction counselors and centers, and get to know the Suboxone providers in the community. Effective treatment for your patients may only be a phone call away. Once you know about these options, doctors can “prescribe” a follow-up with these partners rather than a refill on pills.
2. Encourage staff to read Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.
This book by Sam Quinones paints in detail the grim realities associated with the opioid epidemic. To treat this crisis, health care providers must understand the crisis. This book opens a window into the epidemic.
3. Organize an opioid prescribers’ group.
These groups are a valuable tool in the battle against opioid dependence. Sometimes it just takes a few people who really care to come together to affect change. So reach out to other stakeholders in the community — primary care physicians, prehospital providers, counselors, teachers, local government officials, you name it — and create an ongoing community forum to share experiences and design effective action plans.
It’s not just EDs and healthcare providers that are on the frontlines of this crisis, it is schools, teachers, politicians, store owners, and ordinary citizens that all have a stake in the fight.
4. Stay informed.
It’s important to stay up to date on news and statistics surrounding the opioid epidemic. This epidemic is relatively new in the world of scholarly research and studies are just now being released about the effects, consequences and possible solutions that can be implemented in response. In order to stop the opioid epidemic in its tracks, healthcare providers have to stay on top of the latest findings related this growing problem.
In conclusion, we all have to work together to combat the epidemic and do our part to not make matters worse. It’s easy to point fingers as to the cause of this crisis, but placing blame won’t solve this problem — we’re all stakeholders in this battle. Just like working with individual patients in the ED, treatment of this epidemic will require teamwork, clear communication and confidence that the work we do will lead to positive outcomes.
If you’re interested in learning more about the role emergency departments can play in fighting the opioid epidemic, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain — United States, 2016.”
Rachael Gordon, BSN, RN, Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, Calif.