Addressing the Opioid Crisis: Nursing’s Role

Photo of Cynthia Russell, PhD, RN, FAAN, PCC, NBC-HWC – Dean of the School of Nursing & Allied Health Professions

By Cynthia Russell, PhD, RN, FAAN, PCC, NBC-HWC
Dean, School of Nursing & Allied Health Professions

Recognized as a public health emergency, the opioid crisis in the United States is beginning to get the recognition that it deserves. This past month, Dr. Mary Frances Suter, Doctor of Nursing Practice Director; Julia Scherpenberg, Family Nurse Practitioner Coordinator; and I were privileged to be among the regional healthcare providers and educators to attend the Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s Conference, “Someone You Know: Facing the Opioid Crisis Together.” This remarkable one-day event focused on giving voice to the individuals and their families impacted by opioid addiction. In addition, experts from around the nation and region shared leading trends in treatment, research, and grassroots educational efforts.

Consider these startling numbers:

  • 11.8 million people age 12 or older misused opioids in 20161
  • Approximately 115 deaths occur per day due to opioid overdose2
  • An estimated 10.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders3

Nursing organizations including the American Nurses Association, American Academy of Nursing, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and National League for Nursing, supported the bipartisan measures put forward by the House and Senate that the President signed into law on October 24, 2018. Individual nurses from around Pennsylvania and the nation contacted their congressmen and women to support taking action in addressing the opioid epidemic.

So what more can we do in stemming the tide of disruption and devastation associated with addiction and its consequences? The faculty of the School of Nursing and Allied Health Professions at Holy Family University is committed to preparing our graduates, at all educational levels, to be solution-focused in facing this crisis through the integration of cutting-edge research and evidence-based practices. Every student must learn about preventing and managing opioid abuse and overdose, whether from prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, buprenorphine, and morphine or illicit use of synthetic opioids (fentanyl analogs and heroin).

Nurses need to be prepared to treat pregnant women addicted to opioids and their infants entering this world addicted. Prospective prescribers, such as our FNP students, must examine when to use opioids to treat pain and when to pursue alternative therapeutic interventions, consider follow up and discontinuous procedures, understand how to administer naloxone in the event of an overdose, and be knowledgeable about referral sources for treating addition within their community.

While the above discussion barely scratches the surface of this complex health care crisis, we know that our students and graduates from Holy Family will be ready participants in addressing the issue of opioid abuse, addiction, and treatment in the years ahead.

1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States.
2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Opioid Overdose Crisis.
3. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2018). Mental Health by the Numbers.