The United States healthcare system faces a major crisis from the use and abuse of prescription pills and street drugs. More than two million Americans are addicted to these medications, some of which are prescribed legitimately as pain medications. The opioid overdose and related deaths are common issues that many healthcare organizations deal with each day. The challenge emerges during a time when the country encounters increasing health care costs and demands for treatment due to the high prevalence of chronic pain. Many patients in the intensive care unit and other hospital settings have become dependent on the pain relievers in the course of their treatment. Although pain medications are a critical part of disease management, they are highly addictive, posing the challenge of opioid crisis in the country.
Abuse of prescription drugs is a major crisis in the United States because of the increasing prevalence of addiction and high mortality rate caused by those substances. Martin, Laderman, Hyatt, and Krueger, (2016) reveal that in 2013, 16,235 individuals in the U.S. died because of opioid overdose. The authors further disclose that the number of deaths caused by the legally prescribed drugs is more than deaths triggered by illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and benzodiazepines. Between 2000 and 2009, the country witnessed an increase in the rate of opioid prescribed to patients going up by 68%, reaching 202 million (Martin, Laderman, Hyatt, & Krueger, 2016). Furthermore, between 2013 and 2014, the U.S. witnessed a 9% increase in the number of deaths caused by those substances. Hydrocodone and acetaminophen are among the commonly prescribed painkillers, and the need and legal status of the drugs make the challenge more complicated to address. Therefore, abuse of drugs remains a challenge because they are readily available and legitimately prescribed.
Nurses in the intensive care unit take care of critically ill patients. Some of the patients are in immerse pain and rely on painkillers as an essential part of their treatment. The federal law and hospital policy allows prescription of pain relievers in the treatment of both cancer and non-cancer related pain (Manchikanti, et al., 2012). Therefore, nurses are legally allowed to administer pain relievers to patients in the ICU to relieve suffering. As a result of the high reliance on the substances during the disease management phase, some patients become chemically dependent long after completing their treatment. Nurses have witnessed an increase in the number of patients who have been re-admitted for addiction or because of complications associated with opioid overdose. The prescribing physicians and nurses experience significant challenges trying to balance the need to relieve pain and ensure that patients are not addicted to the drugs.
The Role of the Nurse Practitioner
The opioid crisis has a significant impact on the role of the nurse practitioners, considering the position the professional has in the continuum of care. The healthcare system is embroiled in a public health catastrophe, with nursing professionals being right in the middle because of their role in prescribing and administering pain relievers to their patients. On one hand, nurses will not allow suffering to their patients while drugs are available to relieve the pain. On the other hand, they face the crisis of ensuring that they control the intake of drugs to prevent chemical dependence and overdose (Wright et al., 2014). The challenge intensifies due to the availability of the medications as vital aspect of pain-management strategies (Florence, Luo, Xu, & Zhou, 2016). Consequently, nurses are in a dilemma trying to save lives while deaths occur in the process due to opioid addiction and overdose.
Alternative Provided in Literature
The effects of the opioid crisis are evident in the healthcare system and other sectors in the country. Various stakeholders are involved in the crisis, including the healthcare providers, government agencies, such as the FDA, and pharmaceutical companies, among others. These individuals and groups can contribute to efforts when addressing the epidemic (Gostin, Hodge, & Noe, 2017). One of the alternatives in dealing with the crisis is by the pharmaceutical industries through research and development of less addictive substances. Furthermore, nurses and other health care providers can reduce the intake of the prescription drugs and limit access to the most critical cases. Drug retailers can get involved by restricting access to prescriptions only to avoid excessive availability of the drugs. Finally, behavioral change campaigns are crucial to educate the public about the dangers posed by prescription drugs in society (Califf, Woodcock, & Ostroff, 2016). The comprehensive efforts are necessary to deal with the crisis and save lives.
The United States faces a severe crisis caused by prescription drugs. Nurse practitioners have a responsibility to provide sufficient care to their patients, including pain management. However, in the process, they are creating another problem associated with opioid use and misuse. Mostly, the situation has an impact on the healthcare system and the practitioners, expected to solve health problems, but in real sense causing addiction. The challenge has ramifications to various stakeholders who should engage in comprehensive efforts to address the crisis effectively and save society from the imminent danger of opioid epidemic.