Practical Steps for Nurses to Reduce Prescription Opioid Diversion

By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

“Opioids diverted from friends and family members who have legitimate prescriptions are a major source of abused prescription opioids.”

More than 800 lbs. of drugs have been collected in Lycoming County, PA, since drug collection boxes were placed in law enforcement agencies over a year ago, allowing residents to safely dispose of unwanted drugs. Here the drugs are separated from their containers before incineration. Photo courtesy of Karen Vibert-Kennedy / Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

More than 800 lbs. of drugs have been collected in Lycoming County, PA, since collection boxes were placed in law enforcement agencies over a year ago, allowing residents to safely dispose of unwanted drugs. Here the drugs are separated from their containers before incineration. Photo courtesy of Karen Vibert-Kennedy / Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

Amid recent reports from the CDC drawing attention to a prescription painkiller and heroin overdose epidemic, last week President Obama announced an initiative to address both prescription drug and heroin abuse in the United States. In addition to a PR campaign involving sports figures and celebrities, the initiative mandates education and training for those who prescribe controlled substances and steps to improve access to treatment for drug addiction.

This epidemic can’t be blamed on a single cause, and as the CDC points out, any meaningful solution must also address such crucial issues as significant state by state variations in prescribing patterns.

Another crucial contributor is the diversion of legitimately prescribed opioid medications, which we addressed in our August issue with a CE article by Renee Manworren and Aaron Gilson: “Nurses’ Role in Preventing Prescription Opioid Diversion.” The article is free. Here’s an excerpt from the overview:

Opioids diverted from friends and family members who have legitimate prescriptions are a major source of abused prescription opioids. Nurses…have the opportunity to provide…anticipatory guidance every time a patient receives prescription medication. The purpose of this article is to inform nurses of the magnitude of opioid diversion, the nonmedical use of opioids, and opioids’ inappropriate disposal. The authors propose three potential interventions in which nurses can play a critical role:

  • Teaching patients about the risks of opioid diversion.
  • Providing patients with information on the safekeeping and proper disposal of opioids.
  • Tracking patients’ analgesic use to improve our knowledge of prescription analgesic requirements for pain management.

But read the article to learn what you can do to address this problem.

Editor-in-chief, AJN

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