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Guideline for Prescribing Opioids: Oklahoma Requirement

2 Contact Hours - 2 Pharmacology Hours
This course is applicable for the following professions:
Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN), Midwife (MW), Nursing Student, Registered Nurse (RN)
This course will be updated or discontinued on or before Saturday, March 26, 2022
Course Description
The Oklahoma Board of Nursing Rules defines the scope of practice for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) (Certified Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist or Certified Nurse Midwife) to prescribe and administer Schedule III-IV drugs, under physician supervision.1 APRNs with prescriptive authority must comply with state and Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requirements before prescribing controlled substances. Participants will know the guidelines for prescribing opioids defined by OAC 485 and 59 O.S.
CEUFast Inc. did not endorse any product, or receive any commercial support or sponsorship for this course. The Planning Committee and Authors do not have any conflict of interest.

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To earn of certificate of completion you have one of two options:
  1. Take test and pass with a score of at least 80%
  2. Reflect on practice impact by completing self-reflection, self-assessment and course evaluation.
    (NOTE: Some approval agencies and organizations require you to take a test and self reflection is NOT an option.)
Author:    Julia Tortorice (RN, MBA, MSN, NEA-BC, CPHQ)

Outcomes

≥90% of participants will know guidelines for prescribing opioids defined by OAC 485 and 59 O.S.

Objectives

After completing this course, the student will be able to:

  1. Apply correct opioid prescription practice.
  2. Identify the components of an opioid risk discussion.
  3. Discuss situations that require a patient-provider agreement.
  4. Discuss two strong positive effects found from using opioids.
  5. Explain what opioid tolerance looks like and what it means to the person affected.

OAC 485 Changes

The Oklahoma Board of Nursing Rules, specifically OAC 485: 10-16-5(c) defines the scope of practice for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) (Certified Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist or Certified Nurse Midwife) to prescribe and administer Schedule III-IV drugs, under physician supervision.1 APRNs with prescriptive authority must comply with state and Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requirements before prescribing controlled substances.

Prescription Limitations and Requirements

An initial opioid prescription cannot exceed a seven-day supply for the treatment of acute pain. The lowest effective dose of immediate-release opioids should be prescribed for acute pain. No more than a 30-day supply for Schedule III-V drugs can be prescribed.1

Discussion requirements between APRN and patient or parent/guardian:

Before issuing a prescription for an opioid drug, the APRN should discuss the following with the patient or parent/guardian all medical risks associated with opioids. An opioid risk discussion includes1:

  • High risks of addiction, physical or psychological dependence even when taken as prescribed
  • Risk of overdose
  • Dangers of taking opioid drugs with alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other central nervous system depressants can result in fatal respiratory depression
  • Reasons the prescription is necessary
  • Alternative treatment options

Documentation should include the risk discussion. Before the initial or any subsequent prescriptions of opioids, the risk discussion must be done and documented.

The Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) must be checked at the initial prescription of a narcotic and then at least every 180 days.1 The PMP check must be documented.

Before the initial prescription of an opioid for acute or chronic pain, the provider must2:

  • Document a thorough medical history, including the experience of the patient with nonopioid medication and nonpharmacological pain-management approaches and substance abuse history
  • Document a physical examination
  • Develop a treatment plan focused on determining the cause of pain
  • Access relevant prescription monitoring information from the central repository

An initial opioid prescription cannot exceed a seven-day supply for the treatment of acute pain. An additional seven days may be prescribed if2:

  • Pain due to a major surgical procedure or "confined to home" status
  • The subsequent prescription is written on the same day as the initial prescription
  • The patient is given written instructions on the subsequent prescription, indicating the earliest date on which the prescription may be filled ("do not fill until" date)
  • The subsequent prescription is dispensed no more than five after the "do not fill until" date
  • There is a patient-provider agreement with a parent or guardian (required if the patient is under the age of eighteen)
  • The patient is pregnant (this requires a patient-provider agreement)

The provider can issue a subsequent seven-day prescription after talking with the patient if2:

  • The prescription is necessary and appropriate to the treatment needs of the patient and
  • The issuance of the subsequent prescription does not present an undue risk of abuse, addiction or diversion

Documentation of the rationale and determination of these two conditions is required.

A patient-provider agreement is required for when the third prescription for an opioid is issued.2

A review is required at a minimum of every three months when an opioid drug is continuously prescribed. The review must be documented and includes2:

  • The course of treatment
  • Any new information about the etiology of the pain
  • The progress of the patient toward treatment objectives

In the first year of the patient-provider agreement, before every renewal, assess the patient and document any problems associated with an opioid use disorder. After the first year, assessment is due at a minimum of every six months.2

Periodically the provider should make reasonable efforts to stop the use of the controlled substance, decrease the dosage, try other drugs, or try other treatment modalities. Periodic efforts to be made to reduce the potential for abuse or opioid use disorder.2

Monitor compliance with the patient-provider agreement and any recommendations that the patient seek a referral.

All opioid prescriptions must have acute or chronic pain noted on the prescription.2

Any provider authorized to prescribe an opioid drug must have a written policy or policies that include the execution of a written agreement to engage in an informed consent process between the prescribing practitioner and qualifying opioid therapy patient. A qualifying opioid therapy patient is defined as2:

  • A patient requiring opioid treatment for more than three (3) months
  • A patient who is prescribed benzodiazepines and opioids together for more than one twenty-four-hour period

OR

  • A patient who is prescribed a dose of opioids that exceeds one hundred (100) morphine equivalent doses

Exceptions to Limitations

Exceptions to limitations are made in the Uniform Controlled and Dangerous Substance Act for1:

  • Cancer Treatment
  • Hospice or Palliative Care
  • Residents of a long-term care facility
  • Substance abuse or opioid dependence treatment

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD) can report an APRN, to the licensing boards if a patient receives one or more prescriptions in quantities or frequency inconsistent with accepted standards of safe practice.1

Reduce Opioid Overdose

The Oklahoma Prescription Drug Planning Workgroup released a state plan to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths. As a participating member of the workgroup, the Oklahoma Board of Nursing supports the state plan in providing nurses with substance abuse information to help reduce opioid-related deaths in Oklahoma. The components of this plan are3:

  • Community/public education
  • Provider/prescriber education
  • Disposal/storage for the public
  • Disposal/storage for providers
  • Tracking and monitoring
  • Regulatory/enforcement
  • Treatment/intervention

The State Plan is available at: Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse in Oklahoma.

Introduction to the Opioid Crisis

Overdose has become the leading cause of death in the United States for those under the age of fifty, with opioids in 2016 ending the lives of more than 115 people each day.4,5 This has led president Trump and public leaders to issue a call to arms for what is being labeled a public health emergency. Some, however, argue that what is being seen relates more to a failure of the war on pain spawned during 1996 by the American Pain Society, when they acknowledged the medical systems’ serious undertreatment of pain and called for mandatory pain assessments as “the fifth vital sign.6

The ethical dilemma of over-prescription vs. the American Pain Society statement of undertreatment of pain creates a serious split on how to manage an opioid overdose epidemic. Are we dealing with a population seeking relief from poorly managed or unmanaged pain, or is there an element seeking socially unacceptable benefits that may arise from illicit or illegal use of opioids meant for the treatment of pain?

Should we extend treatment with kindness and gentleness seeking to minimize and alleviate suffering, or should we make new laws to isolate offenders behind bars before they endanger themselves or others? Silly as these questions may seem to some, they are very real. Let us take a look at the subjects in question: opioids, their benefits and use, and how this situation of uncontrolled overuse snuck-up on us. And finally, what is being done about it now and plans that are being formed for moving forward to mitigate what has become a deadly addiction.

Opioids Take Pain Away

When we say “opioid,” we are talking about chemicals, both natural and synthetic, that, when taken correctly, mimic the pain dampening ability of opium. The word opioid is derived from the name opium, the concentrated juice of the poppy Papaver somniferum, which can aid in sleep, pain relief, and relaxation and from which morphine, codeine, and several other alkaloids used as or in prescription medication are taken.

Table 1: Opioids

Natural Opiates

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Heroin
  • Thebaine
  • Oripavine

Semisynthetic Opiates

  • Oxymorphone (contains Thebaine)
  • Hydrocodone (contains Codeine)
  • Oxycodone (contains Thebaine)
  • Hydromorphone (contains Morphine)

Semisynthetic opiates are molecules that contain some natural opiates and a mix of synthetic chemicals.

Synthetic Opiates

  • Demerol
  • Fentanyl
  • Dilaudid
  • Norco
  • Lortab
  • Atarax
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Pentazocine
  • Propoxyphene
  • Tramadol

Opium, and to a greater or lesser extent, all of the “opioids” can enter the brain, stimulating chemical receptor sites conveniently known as opioid receptors located in the brain, bowels, and spinal cord. When an opioid is present, the activated receptors slow or block pain signal transmission to the brain, slow bowel function, and in general produce a warmly euphoric feeling in both the limbic areas of the brain that house the “reward” response and the frontal cortex which helps to mediate pleasure.4 An increase in natural endorphins, pain-relieving chemicals produced naturally by the body, accompanies opioid use, boosting feelings of wellbeing, and further suppressing the perception of pain.5 The longer opioids are used, fewer and fewer endorphins are manufactured by the body, leaving natural pain fighting abilities handicapped and at a loss to function normally.

Prescription opioids are an invaluable asset for the legitimate control of moderate to severe pain.

Abuse of opioids varies. For some, the relief from stress, the warmth, the feeling of “at ease with life” that accompanies an opioid’s lowering of heart rate, widening of blood vessels, and gentle sedation is the goal. Then there are those reaching for the intense pleasure high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine; a chemical increased by opioids can help produce.

Dopamine Makes Good Feelings

As the National Institute on Drug Abuse puts it in materials designed to aid teachers in helping youth make good decisions, “Dopamine is sometimes called the pleasure neurotransmitter because it helps you feel good.” “When something pleasurable happens, certain axons release lots of dopamine. The dopamine attaches to receptors on dendrites of neighboring neurons and passes on the pleasure message”.6

In part, according to the National Institute of Health, it is the good job opioids do managing pain and helping us to feel better that is contributing to the overuse/ misuse problem with some 21 to 29 percent of those with chronic pain using them outside of their health providers instructions. Sadly, some 8 to 12 percent of chronic pain patients develop what is referred to as an opioid use disorder, which includes both substance dependence and addiction, with about 4 to 6 percent of those chronic pain sufferers who misuse opioid prescription medicines moving on to use the opioid street drug heroin. Conversely, reports indicate that around 80 percent of those who use the illegal street drug heroin has a history of first misusing prescription opioids.5

Coming to TERMS with: Opioid – Opiate – Narcotic4

Terminology can be confusing. The term opiate is meant to indicate a natural or only slightly modified derivative of opium, such as morphine, codeine, and heroin. The favored term currently, opioid, technically should be used for only the synthetic and semisynthetic opium facsimiles such as Oxycontin or Fentanyl. Opioid is now used, however, for the entire family of opium-like drugs. The term narcotic is also seen applied to opioids, be wary, however, in its use, as narcotic technically can indicate any mind-altering chemical possessing sleep-inducing properties.

Relief from pain accompanied by feelings of well-being and even a touch of euphoria are the hallmarks of pain relief prescription opioids, giving them a high risk for addiction. When used for pain for more than two to three days, many people begin to develop a physiological tolerance. This means that a more rapid break down of the opioid chemicals by the body is occurring along with greater resistance to the opioid effects. Therefore, it takes a larger and larger amount of the medication to get the same result as before. Some begin to think obsessively about how to get more opioids and even begin hoarding them so as not to run out. Others succumb to the temptation of illegal activities, such as “double doctoring,” or seeking additional medication from illicit or illegal sources.

Dependence on opioids affects an estimated 5 million adults in the United States and led to around 42,000 deaths in 2016.5 Surprisingly half of the deaths from drug overdose are attributed to the use or misuse of prescription medications, with overdose fatalities raising, according to the CDC, from 6 percent per 100,000 people in 1999 to 20 percent in the year 2016.6

Be aware, tolerance to the positive effects of opioids, such as euphoria, develop much faster than the body’s ability to handle opioid's dangerous effects, creating a high risk for overdose by mistake.

Coming to TERMS with: Drug Misuse6

Drug misuse is not a diagnosis when discussing prescription opioids; it indicates the presence of a problematic pattern of drug use.

  • Taking medication without a prescription (i.e., taking medication meant for someone else such as a family member or friend)
  • Taking medication for a reason or incident other than what it was prescribed for
  • Taking the medication at higher doses or for a longer time than prescribed

Though our current opioid crisis is built on the framework created by all of the previous unresolved opium epidemics, this new wave of life-destroying overuse has features that make it unique from past outbreaks. For instance, we have an “exact” start date for our crisis, the year 1995. That was the year that the megalithic pharmaceutical industry brought forth the first of another set of wonder drugs to curb overuse and addiction to opioids. Most overlook the similarity to how the fight against morphine overuse brought heroin forward. Specific to our contemporary crisis is the new drug OxyContin, a long-acting form of oxycodone, one of the first of the time-released opioids. OxyContin hit the pain relief market with great promises as an end-all to both pain and the risk of narcotic abuse.6 The assurances from Purdue Pharma, the company which aggressively marketed OxyContin, was that it was a much safer, less addictive opioid, able to be safely used for months at a time in the treatment of chronic pain.6

Forceful marketing with incentives such as ‘befriending,’ then manipulating tired, overworked prescribers and lures such as weekend first-class resort training on the new medications helped pharmaceutical companies flood the market with hundreds of millions of new opioid pills and capsules.4 Meanwhile pain suffers found themselves developing drug tolerance and addiction to the new products. Just as the old, and those abusing themselves with prescription meds found that crushing the tablets or capsule contents and snorting or injecting the powder, delivering a potent ‘high’ much more powerful and quicker than swallowing a pill.5

Coming to TERMS with: Illicit vs. Illegal

Illicit behaviors are those considered beyond the norms of society, its rules, and behaviors, and are usually committed in secret. Illicit acts are usually against the law; however, if circumstances change would be legally allowed, such as the trade of drugs that are banned in one country yet supplied from a country where their sale is legal.

Illegal behaviors are actions directly against the rules of law.

A key factor differentiating illicit from illegal is the secrecy that surrounds the act.

In response to the reassurance that patients would not become addicted to the new opiate pain medications, prescribers engaged in a frenzy of prescription writing, often giving thirty or more days’ supply to those whose pain would be diminished or gone within two or three days. The glut of available opium compounds sitting available in medication cabinets in households across the country became a source of temptation to those with no ill intent who on stressful days recalled the mild euphoria and feeling of relaxation, as well as those attempting to follow misunderstood prescriber orders on the presumption that they are to finish the prescription. To heighten the danger, other opioids add to the current crisis. Heroin, no longer a monopoly of the far east, was being produced cheaply and efficiently in neighboring Mexico and Central American countries. Easy transport across a long, laxly secured land border made the new heroin cheap and easily obtainable. Many chronic pain patients have, in fact, readily accepted inexpensive street heroin into their self-treatment when they realize there is an alternative to expensive, difficult to obtain from prescriber prescription medication. During the early years of our current crisis, other potent opioids such as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine, began to become available to street drug vendors becoming rapid favorites to those seeking inexpensive, powerful effects.

Fentanyl6,5

Fentanyl and its street produced analogs (acetyl fentanyl, furanyl fentanyl, and carfentanil, among others) are synthetic opioids meant to mimic the effects of opium. Pharmaceutical grade fentanyl is fifty times more potent than heroin, and 100 times more potent than the same amount of morphine. Medicinal use fentanyl is a very useful tool in managing severe pain, such as in cancer treatment or palliative, end-of-life care. Black market fentanyl sometimes referred to as IMF (illicitly manufactured fentanyl), varies in strength and purity, yet remains incredibly potent. Street drug dealers often mix IMF into cocaine or heroin to up the drug’s effects.

Carfentanil, a fentanyl knock-off, is roughly 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and requires specialized toxicology to detect.

The seriousness of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and its close mimics, is reinforced by a study published in the May 2018 Journal of the American Medical Association that found in the year 2016, 46 percent of opioid deaths were attributed to a synthetic opioid. That’s up from the 14 percent synthetic opioid death rate in 2010.

Taming the Opioid Lion

It is wrong to think of the current opioid crisis as a raging lion, out to mangle, and devour us all. It is, however, a serious issue deserving more than kneejerk election-year attention by our nation’s leaders and policymakers. The CDC estimates that each year the total national financial burden from prescription opioid use costs us, the taxpaying public, $78.5 billion each year, an amount which takes into account the cost of healthcare, criminal justice involvement, and addiction treatment.7 As we have seen in previous opium/opioid addiction epidemics, coming between a person's need for pain relief and, for some, their desire for pleasure and their drugs of choice is a tricky matter that takes consideration, planning, and a steadfast determination to see it through.

Consideration – Those misusing opioids are not evil people.

Somehow it was easier, and I might just be speaking for myself, when “those addicts" were simply bad people, criminals, the unsavory dregs of society, or whatever platitude you may have absorbed or grown up with. I am happy to say that you and I, and our medical professionals are growing past that viewpoint popularized during the war on drugs.

One example of a progressive change in attitude is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).6 The DSM-5 is regarded to be the go-to reference for conditions affecting thought, moods, emotions, and behaviors such as opioid abuse. In it’s the newest iteration, the 2013 edition, great effort has been taken to correlate it with the ICD-11, (International Classification of Disease, Eleventh Revision) a system of medical coding created by the World Health Organization (WHO) for documenting diagnoses, diseases, signs, and symptoms and social circumstances. Also, the diagnostic criteria regarding addiction have been softened and revised; for instance, there is now more effort to differentiate between the tolerance and withdrawal seen with even the appropriate use of prescription opioids and the compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that define addiction. Views of addiction also are being shifted with the diagnostic criteria of encounters with the law, i.e., the “recurrent legal problems” being removed totally from the addiction category. The section in the DSM-5 that regards opioid dependence is even phasing out terms such as drug abuse and replacing them with the more descriptive title of Substance Abuse Disorders.4

Table 2: DSM-5 Opioid Use Disorder Criteria Sum-up8,6,9
Opioid Use Disorder is defined as a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least 2 of the following criteria, occurring within 12 months

CATEGORY

CRITERIA

Impaired control

  • Craving present to use opioids
  • Opioids used in larger amounts or for longer than was intended
  • Excessive time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from opioid use
  • Unsuccessful efforts or desire to control or cut back on opioid use

Risky use

  • Continued opioid use despite knowing of persistent psychological or physical problems that will be caused by the use
  • Opioid use in physically hazardous situations

Pharmacological properties

  • Tolerance as demonstrated by larger amounts of opioids needed to achieve the previous effect or decreased effect of opioids with continued use of the same amount
  • Withdrawal as demonstrated by symptoms of opioid withdrawal syndrome, or taking opioids to relieve or avoid withdrawal

Social impairment

  • Persistent or recurrent interpersonal or social problems that are exacerbated by the use of opioids, or continued use of opioids despite social or interpersonal problems
  • Failure to fulfill major role obligations at home, work, or school as a result of recurrent opioid use
  • Reduced or given up important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to opioid use

One reason why an update in attitude toward those who misuse opioids is beneficial is that the primary reason given by those misusing them is the relief of physical pain.6 While some misuse opioids seeking the euphoria, many, perhaps most of those caught in the web are simply chasing the ever-increasing amount needed to dull existing pain, or help them to “feel more normal.4

Case Study: Darnell

Darnell is a 42-year-old Licensed Practical Nurse who had received a moderate injury to her lower back sixteen months previously when she had attempted to support an elderly care client who suddenly lost balance and began to fall forward. She managed care physician prescribed backrest, muscle relaxers, and oxycodone for pain. Darnell found the muscle relaxation medication made her dizzy and did not seem as helpful as taking the pain medication regularly and as early as possible. After two and a half months, she had returned to work through the prescribed amount of pain medication was no longer working to control what had turned into a continual aching pain, so Darnell began increasing the dosage she was taking. This led to running out of medication early. Her PCP (primary care physician) complied with early prescription renewals several times, each time with a more strongly worded warning about decreasing the amount of oxycodone being used. After several early prescription renewals, Darnell’s PCP refused to continue prescribing the medication.

Darnell convinced herself it was time to be off the pain medication anyway, so she was surprised the morning after her last dose with feelings of nausea, the presence of distressing diarrhea, aching bones, an increase in pain, and strong anxiety. Telling herself, it was just a coincidence she applied cold packs to her lower back and medicated herself heavily with OTC (over the counter) pain medications, sleep aids, and tried to sleep through it. The next morning the aches, pain, nausea, and anxiety were still with her as well as a strong craving for oxycodone. Desperate, she called friends and family, asking if any of them had prescription pain medication she could ‘borrow.’ By that method, she was able to obtain a small supply of a variety of prescription opioids. She also made appointments with several physicians and received extensive advice, though she was unable to get opioid pain prescriptions from them.

When a cousin introduced Darnell to his “friend” who could supply her, for a price, with oxycodone, she was aghast, yet relieved. She found herself calling in sick to work frequently to use pain medicine, which led to her being fired for her frequent absences. Money became scarce, so when her supplier “ran short” of oxycodone, it did not take much to convince Darnell to try “just a little” heroin, which proved less expensive and better able to help her feel “more normal” than the prescription medication which had stopped having a positive effect despite doses that left her unable to work or function. Moodiness and depression became her normal, and family and friends dropped or have severely limited contact with her, and members of her close family are discussing “an intervention” to try to bring Darnell out of the lifestyle she has wandered into.

Consideration – Incarceration alone does not cure misusing opioids.

The Nixon era “War on Drugs,” continued by every presidential administration since has taught us many things about substance abuse and addiction. First of all, wars on drugs don’t work.5 Secondly, that deprivation or abstinence alone from a drug of choice, including opioids, does not reduce returning to that substance when it again becomes available. This has proved a deadly problem as the time away from opioids generally reduces the built-up tolerance a person’s metabolism has. That means with former inmates, who on release tend to return to using their previous dosage, the overdose rates run nearly 130 times higher than the general population.6

Costs of The War on Drugs8,5,6

The war on drugs has waged since 1971. Some of its costs include:

  • More than $1 trillion spent
  • Millions of people arrested and imprisoned
  • Over half of those currently in federal prison are incarcerated on drug-related charges
  • Increases in prescription drug costs
  • Increases in illegal, illicit drug use

Caging opioid users whose offenses are centered on nonviolent opioid use as in past eras, needs revisiting. New tactics need to be discussed to tame the lion of opioid overuse and to bring the crisis back from its current record highs.

Planning Our Way Out of Crisis

Every legislator and government agency seem to be presenting their unique plan on how to combat the opioid epidemic. Let’s take a look at some of the concepts that have either been already implemented or stand a good chance of being seen by healthcare professionals across the nation.

In a March 19, 2018, public address on the current opioid crisis president Donald Trump outlined an initiative to “confront the driving forces behind the opioid crisis.4” President Trump’s plan contains three core focus points, each with progressive actions under them4,5:

  • Reduce opioid demand.
    • Launch a nationwide evidence-based public awareness campaign about the dangers of prescription and illicit opioids (and other narcotic) use.
    • Support research and development of therapies and technologies to prevent addiction and decrease the need for opioids in pain management. (e.g., non-addictive pain management options, the potential for a vaccine-specific in the prevention of opioid addiction).
    • Reduce overall opioid prescriptions (e.g., ensure that within three years, 75 percent of opioid prescriptions reimbursed by federal dollars are issued using best practices, with 95 percent compliance within five years).
    • Ensure that the nationwide Prescription Drug Monitoring Program advocated in the Affordable Care Act be completed and operational throughout all states.
  • Stop the flood of illicit drugs across borders and within communities.
    • Secure land borders, ports of entry, and waterways against smuggling.
    • Require electronic advance documentation for 90 percent of all international goods-by-mail shipments and consignment shipments within three years.
    • Utilize advanced screening technologies and drug-sniffing canines with all high-risk international packages to interdict illegal shipments.
    • Engage with opioid source countries such as China and Mexico to cooperate with stopping the movement of opioids, precursor chemicals, and other illicit drugs.
    • Expand efforts to prosecute corrupt or criminally negligent doctors, pharmacies, opioid manufacturers, and distributors.
    • Strengthen enforcement and penalties for drug traffickers.
  • Save lives with proven treatments for opioid addictions and overdose.
    • Ensure first responders are supplied with naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose.
    • Improve nationwide overdose tracking to shift resources to areas of need.
    • Expand evidence-based addiction treatment in every state, focusing on medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.
    • Provide on-demand evidence-based addiction treatment to service members, veterans, and their families.
    • Identify and treat criminal offenders struggling with addiction. (e.g., screen every federal inmate for opioids on intake, facilitate treatment for federal inmates while supporting state, tribal, and local drug courts to provide evidence-based treatment as an alternative or in conjunction with incarceration and supervised release.

HHS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has pushed forward with plans for a five-fold approach to containing the Opioid Crisis7:

  1. Nationwide improvement of treatment and recovery services.
  2. Promoting the availability and use of opioid overdose-reversing medication.
  3. Strengthening public health surveillance to gain a better understanding of opioid-related problems.
  4. Research support on both controlling pain and minimizing addiction.
  5. Advocating for the actual use of better methods of pain management.
Can Narcan Reverse Acute Opioid Overdose?8,6,4

Yes, Narcan (naloxone) can reverse an acute opioid overdose, when given in time. The timing issue is so important that our current United States Surgeon General issued a rare national advisory in April 2018, urging more citizens to have Narcan on hand to help those they find overdosing on opioids.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that binds to opioid receptors in the body, preventing and reversing the effects of opioid medications. Positive effects of restoring breathing last from 30 to 90 minutes, precious time in which medical assistance can be initiated.

Narcan/ Naloxone comes in three forms.

  • Injectable, which requires some professional training to give
  • Auto-injection devices, where families can administer prefilled doses, office personnel, or first responders
  • Nasal spray, (approved by FDA fast-track in 2015) is a needle-free prefilled device that can be sprayed into one nostril while the person in need is on their back.

NOTE: Once Narcan is given, turn the person onto one side if it is safe to do so. Narcan administration can provoke vomiting, and it is never good to risk emesis entering the lungs.

Remember that any Narcan administered will wear off, so observation for at least two hours after the last dose is given is crucial, lest any opioids still present in the person’s system place them once more into an overdose situation.

NIH, the National Institute of Health, through a branch agency of the massive HHS system, has already been meeting with academic researchers and the big pharmaceutical companies who bear a goodly portion of the blame for the current opioid flood pushing the crisis forward.7 The plans NIH is busy implementing include:

  • Finding and instituting safe, effective, non-addictive methods of managing chronic pain.
  • Innovative new technologies and medications for the treatment of opioid use disorders.
  • Methods to improve and distribute both overdose prevention and reversal interventions that save lives and work to support recovery.

Say what you will about the pharmaceutical industry’s actions relating to this generation’s opioid epidemic, some of the large corporations are stepping up with initiatives to slow the growth of addiction. Pharmacy chain CVS® Caremark, for example, began implementing a filling restriction for new pain medication patients prescribed opioids, limiting them to a seven-day supply of medication. Other medication dispensaries are considering coming on board with this self-limitation, and some legislative plans are advocating this throttled down introduction to opioids become the law of the land.6

Opioid Crisis Interventions

Yes, some practices have proven successful in both bringing users back from their opioid misuse, and keeping others from wandering into the trap of overuse and addiction. For preventing opioid misuse, for instance, encouraging clients in some safe practices and prescribers in some positive actions are useful7,6:

  • Encourage clients only to take the medication and amounts prescribed.
  • Encourage prescribers to keep a close watch on client opioid use and pull the medication while replacing it with other pain control interventions quickly when misuse is determined (i.e., physical therapy, topical lidocaine patches, hot/cold therapy, electric pulse therapy, etc.).
  • Tell clients they must not accept pain medication from others, nor share their pain medication with others.
  • Encourage clients to return unused medication to their pharmacy or other drug take-back locations as soon as they no longer need it. No "saving" medications "just-in-case.”

Be alert for signs of opioid dependence, such as8:

  • Mental changes – new or increased depression, problems sleeping, lack of interest in people or activities, suicidal thoughts, fear of not having a ready supply of opioids, a decrease in their everyday coping skills.
  • Physical changes – constricted pupils, drowsiness, slurred speech, constipation, slowed breathing, malnutrition, even an increase in skin and other infections.
Case Study: Frederick

Frederick (call me Fred) is a 32-year-old bricklayer who fell from scaffolding seven months ago. During his three-month recuperation, he became opioid-tolerant, developed a dependence, and subsequently continued using opioids after his injuries had healed, and he was released from medical care. As Fred describes in a return-to-treatment interview session, "Bricking is an unforgiving occupation. When I can’t concentrate, I make mistakes. Mistakes get me injured or fired.”

Fred attempted to wean himself off opioids, and when that failed, he went "cold turkey," trying to stop using abrupt withdrawal. However, the intense symptoms of withdrawal and the constant cravings proved too much for him. He has subsequently entered a formal medication-based treatment program for opioid abuse.

In his first six weeks of the treatment program, Fred is switched from his drug of choice, OxyContin, to buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist used to diminish physical dependence on opioids.5 The treatment produces a lack of cravings, and urine testing shows that Fred is staying opioid-free. The buprenorphine is gradually lowered to a maintenance amount, and Fred returns to full-time work.

Eventually, feeling cured of his cravings, Fred stops going to treatment and stops the buprenorphine. A few months go by, and another injury brings Fred into contact with oxycodone prescribed at the urgent care clinic he visits. The use of prescription pain medication quickly increases, and he finds himself with thoughts focused on the next dose of medication. Having experienced some of the downsides of opioid dependence as well as the benefits of regaining control, Fred presents himself to the opioid treatment center to get control of his life back again.

Working Together to End the Opioid Crisis

Opioid abuse is an epidemic of our times. We can learn from previous generations’ struggles with opioid misuse and form strategies for early detection and positive interventions. Interventions such as replacing opioid pain management with other interventions (i.e., physical therapy, thermal therapies, electronic pain management options, regional pain blocks, etc.). The interdiction of non-prescribed supplies of opioids and making pain management alternatives inexpensive and readily available, also providing those who do need higher levels of pain management with the means of controlling their pain within the health system, allowing for treatment for dependence when needed, so they are not forced into illicit and illegal methods to meet their pain control needs. Remember that detoxification doesn’t mean much if supportive measures are not also present to help prevent relapse.

Prevention measures need to be formed at high levels of the government and the health profession, with actions and goals that we can all buy into. A uniform, a united approach is the beginning of an answer to our opioid crisis, and for health professionals to contribute our best, we must stay informed regarding the changing landscape surrounding the pain of our opioid crisis.

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References

  1. Oklahoma Board of Nursing. Discussion Guidelines for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses When Prescribing Opioids. Published July 25, 2019. Retrieved January 21, 2020. Visit Source.
  2. Oklahoma Statutes. Title 63. Public Health and Safety. Chapter 2-Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substance Act. Article 3 - Regulation of Manufacture, Distribution, Dispensing, Prescribing, Administering, and Using for Scientific Purposes of Controlled Dangerous Substances. Section 2-309I - Prescription Requirements for Opioids and Benzodiazepines - Copayment, Co-Insurance, or Deductible - Provider Policy. Published May 21, 2019. Retrieved January 21, 2020. Visit Source.
  3. Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse in Oklahoma. A Review of Progress and Updated Plan. Retrieved January 21, 2020. Visit Source.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio). NIDA. Published on April 4, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2018. Visit Source.
  5. Walsh L. Buprenorphine. Veterans and Military Families | SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published June 15, 2015. Accessed August 5, 2018. Visit Source.
  6. Dias E, Correal A. What Is Narcan and How Does It Stop Opioid Overdoses? The New York Times. Published on April 6, 2018. Accessed August 4, 2018. Visit Source.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioid Overdose Crisis. NIDA. Published March 6, 2018. Accessed July 6, 2018. Visit Source.
  8. Dixon DW. Opioid Abuse: Practice Essentials, Background, Pathophysiology. Background, Pathophysiology, Etiology. Published June 21, 2018. Accessed July 13, 2018. Visit Source.
  9. Freedman H. Drug Use Disorder vs. Drug Misuse - What is the Difference? The Buzz. Published on April 19, 2018. Accessed July 29, 2018. Visit Source.