Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication that is used to control pain. Examples include meperidine, methadone, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin), oxycodone with acetaminophen (Percocet), and hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Vicodin). There is an increasing number of patients with pain addicted to opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. Nurses play a vital role in preventing opioid addiction in patients with pain through nursing assessments and monitoring of their patients.

Here are 4 essential steps that nurses can take to help prevent opioid addiction.

1. Perform a comprehensive assessment of pain by using a standardized pain assessment tool.

Nurses need to assess the individual patient’s pain location, characteristics, onset, duration, frequency, intensity or severity, precipitating factors of pain, and how the individual manages his or her pain.To learn more about pain assessment tools, visit www.paincommunitycentre.org/article/pain-assessment-tools.

2. Assess the patient’s pain management and medications used.

Pain medication should be matched to the individual patient’s needs. It is important that nurses assess the patient’s detailed medical history, including a list of currently prescribed and past medications, as well as a history of substance use or substance use disorders in the patient and the patient’s family. Keep monitoring patient use of medications and opioids to avoid overdependence or potential addiction.

3. Evaluate the effectiveness of the pain management through ongoing assessment of the individual patient’s pain experience.

Proper evaluation of pain management requires that all patients have a treatment entry diagnosis that is defined, standard, and objectively determined. An ongoing assessment of the patient’s pain experience during and after treatment is vital for preventing pain medication misuse. Patients can become addicted if they take pain medications or opioids too much or for a long period of time.

4. Educate your patients about pain management.

A better patient understanding of the nature of pain, its treatment, and the side effects and complications is one of the most important steps toward improved control of pain and pain medication use. Nurses should provide written instructions about dosage, adverse effects, how long the medication should be taken, and how to store and dispose of unused medication. Opioids can be dangerous if patients take them with alcohol, or with certain drugs such as antihistamines, sleeping pills, and some antidepressants. Nurses can also introduce the use of non-pharmacological techniques (e.g., relaxation, guided imagery, music therapy, distraction, massage, lifestyle modifications, and heat and cold application) before, during, and after feeling pain to control and reduce pain.

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN, is an experienced researcher in health promotion and project director of a non-profit health and wellness program.

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