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Training Is Essential for Healthcare Staff Encountering Opioid Abuse, Whether Clinicians or Not

As the opioid crisis continues to unfold across the United States, healthcare providers are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of a dilemma: How can they provide the highest quality patient care while also complying with federal, state, and local mandates around prescribing and reporting abuse?

It’s a thorny question, and a major reason why HealthStream has created an entire course library, Opioids: Tackling the Crisis Through Person-Centered Care, designed to discuss not just the epidemic, but opioid use for conditions such as chronic pain, the risks of opioid use, and how to identify and manage opioid use disorder (OUD).

“We were getting client requests for educational material, and then the government declared the crisis a public health emergency in 2017; that added further impetus,” says Debbie Newsholme, Senior Director of Content Operations for HealthStream. “There has been nearly daily media coverage on the escalation of the opioid crisis ever since, and we wanted to respond to it.”

An Increased Demand for Education Materials about the Opioid Crisis

Other factors included:

  • The rising number of opioid-related deaths
  • State lawsuits against major pharmaceutical manufacturers
  • The growing number of physicians, pharmacists, and other licensed independent practitioners (LIPs) arrested for over-prescribing
  • Climbing healthcare costs around treatment

It’s worth remembering the staggering numbers of the opioid crisis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention almost 2 million Americans have a prescription-related substance use disorder, or SUD. An estimated 45 people are dying from a prescription opioid-related overdose every day, four times the number from 20 years ago. And like its response to COVID-19, the healthcare community has worked to combat a rapidly evolving situation with a broad, coordinated treatment platform that covers everything from viable treatment options to awareness and prevention programs.

“The issue is overwhelming,” Newsholme says. “A member of our team is a former home-health and hospice nurse, and she has seen the side of the issue as it relates to people with chronic pain from cancer or an end-of-life condition. How were those people being cared for appropriately as their providers were starting to be afraid to prescribe opioids to anyone? We knew something needed to be developed around staff awareness and how each patient case was different.”

The Coursework Comes in Two Modules

The coursework developed by HealthStream has two modules: The first is an “all learners,” or general audience course, which is intended to help get the word out to all healthcare workers. It provides a high-level overview of the crisis to raise awareness and encourage learners to do what they can to make a difference at work, at home and within their community.

The general course covers:

  • The immensity of the opioid crisis
  • Common indications for opioid use: Acute pain, chronic pain and pain in advanced illness
  • Individuals at risk for opioid misuse and opioid use disorder (OUD)
  • What professionals are doing to help turn the crisis around
  • What everyone needs to know about who’s at risk and the risks of opioids themselves
  • How controlled substance agreements work
  • Signs and symptoms of opioid overdose and actions to take including information on naloxone

A second course is designed for clinicians and includes CE credit. In addition to emphasizing the exponential increase in use and how it turned into an epidemic, this course shows how increased screening and diagnosis of OUD and improved access to and use of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) are critical in making a positive impact on the opioid epidemic. MAT uses medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders.

Course elements for clinicians include:

  • Common indications for use of opioids
  • How acute pain, if poorly managed, can transform into a chronic need for opioids
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for management of acute and chronic pain
  • Long-term effects of opioid use
  • Assessment and identification of individuals at risk
  • Signs and symptoms of overdose and naloxone use
  • How to manage at-risk individuals
  • Person-centered discussions
  • Evidence-based treatments
  • Controlled substance agreements
  • Opioid use disorder management and follow-up

The second course sets the table for learners to obtain statistics that put the issue in stark relief in terms of size and scale. It’s a primer on what clinicians and providers need to know about who’s at risk and what those risks look like. It also points out that there is no set persona, or typical patient, when it comes to opioid addiction.

“The spectrum of individuals who are affected by OUD can be adolescents to older adults,” Newsholme explains.  “It really can be anybody, so providers can’t just be on the lookout for one particular age group or gender. The average patient can quickly become addicted, so that complicates the issue as well.”

This blog post excerpts the HealthStream article, “Seeing Past the Opioid Problem: Staff Awareness and Patient Empathy are Key Components of Opioid-Addiction Training Curriculum.” Download the complete article, which contains information the educational courseware options now available from HealthStream about Opioid Addiction.

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