LAS VEGAS — There’s a lot more to
substance abuse disorder than physical dependence, which means that acute detox
treatment by itself isn’t an effective therapy, a researcher said here.
The real key, said Debra Gordon RN,
DNP, of the University of Washington in Seattle, in a talk here at the annual PAINWeek conference, is establishing a
relationship with patients so that behavioral changes can be implemented.
Withholding opioids from patients
with substance use disorder will not cure their addiction, she said. Moreover,
providing them with opioids will not necessarily worsen their addiction and may
help them accept behavioral therapies.
“There is no evidence that
detoxing someone in an acute situation or hospital setting is going to impact
that disease,” Gordon said in a presentation. “In fact, the evidence
seems to be they will be more at risk for using at their discharge and having
an overdose, some of that being in the prison system, but you see that in
Patients with substance use disorder
continue to use drugs despite recurrent problems in their social, workplace, or
familial spheres that occur because of their use. Many take multiple substances
and have underlying mental health disorders, both of which need to be screened
for, Gordon said.
These patients have a higher pain
threshold and the prevalence of chronic pain is also much higher in patients with drug
abuse disorder. As such, using the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS-11) to define their
pain will be insufficient, and providers should determine whether the source of
pain is acute, chronic, or related to the patient’s addiction.
Clinicians should also anticipate
that patients with substance abuse disorder may have had negative experiences
with the healthcare system previously, Gordon said, and asking open-ended
questions without judgment may mitigate feelings of shame or fear that prompt
them to withhold information.
Seemingly obvious physical comforts,
like turning off the lights or keeping a room quiet, also go a long way as
well, Gordon said. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help patients change
their perception of pain and help with sleep, mood, and anxiety issues
co-occurring with substance use disorder.
Still, some patients may not be
willing to change, and others may try to use within the hospital. When
encountering patients who deny having a problem, or who recognize the disorder
but are unwilling to change, providers should focus on helping them transition
out of the hospital when the time comes and providing naloxone emergency
overdose kits to patients who may return to illicit drug use.
“Failure to engage in treatment
is not a failure,” Gordon said. “It’s part of the process and it’s
part of the disease.”
But despite the treatment options
available for patients with substance abuse, some providers may be unaware they
exist, or may be unsure of what they are authorized to provide, Gordon said.
“There are barriers in the
healthcare system in terms of the way we’ve traditionally been trained and
traditionally work in silos, and to care for this population we have to really
have a team approach,” Gordon told MedPage Today. “It’s one
thing to say stuff on paper and another to try and find out how it works in the
Gordon did not report any
by Elizabeth Hlavinka, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Primary Source: PAINWeek
Source Reference: Gordon D “Acute pain in patients with active substance use disorder” PAINWeek 2019; Abstract ACU-01.
You are seeing a newly booked
patient in your jail medical clinic. He states that the last time he was in
jail, he was given a second mattress because he had surgery on his back many
years ago. You note that the patient has not seen a doctor on the outside for
many years, that the patient walks and moves normally, and that he has a normal
neurological examination. You tell the patient that medical does not give out
passes for extra mattresses. The patient angrily erupts in a blaze of
obscenities and threatens a lawsuit.
Manipulation happens when a patient
wants something that they should not have (like an extra mattress and pillow)
and will not accept “NO” for an answer. There are several strategies
patients may employ in an attempt to force practitioners to change a
“No” to a “Yes.” This patient started with the “other
doctors gave me what I want” strategy and when that didn’t work, he
employed the “threatening” strategy. (I covered this in more detail in a post last month.)
Verbal Jiu-Jitsu is what I call the
technique of deflecting and defusing such manipulative confrontations. The
first and most important rule of Verbal Jiu-Jitsu is to remember that this is
not a war or a contest! There should be no “battle of wills” between
you and your patient. There is no winner or loser. Instead, you and your
patient are having a conversation. The whole goal of Verbal Jiu-Jitsu is to
avoid any kind of verbal battle.
I know that it is tempting to think
of an unpleasant verbal exchange as a debate-style contest, with a winner and a
loser at the end. But even if you “win” a verbal battle, you’ve
actually really lost because you have not accomplished your goal of getting
your patient to understand and accept your treatment plan! Your patient is
still not happy and will simply renew the verbal battle at another time in
another way — and maybe more effectively next time.
The second rule of Verbal Jiu-Jitsu
is to have compassionate understanding of your patient. That person in front of
you is not an opponent to be defeated. He is your patient. Like everybody else,
inmates are just trying to get by as well as they can in a very tough
environment — they’re in jail! It’s just that many inmates (and people on the
outside, for that matter) have poor interpersonal skills and resort to
pathological social habits. This is what they know and what works for them. If
a patient has successfully gotten his way throughout his life by bullying and
threatening others, that is how he is going to interact with you, too.
You don’t have control over this —
but you do have control over your reaction. When patients confront you with
threats, they will expect you to respond the way that most other people would
— which is either to fight back or to give in. You should do neither.
Take, for example, the case of this
patient in your clinic who has angrily threatened to sue you plus has lobbed in
a few F-bombs for good measure. There he is, red faced, fists clenched, and
LOUD. Nurses, deputies, and other inmates are watching. How are you going to
handle this? How will you accomplish your goal of defusing the situation and
facilitating reasonable communication with your patient?
The single worst thing you could do
would be to respond to anger with anger: “You can’t talk to me like that!
Get the hell out! Who do you think you are?” First of all, the patient is
accustomed to this type of response and will be far more comfortable and
effective with a loud confrontation than you.
Second, the patient (and everyone
watching) have now learned that a verbal confrontation is an effective way of
getting under your skin — very useful information! Also, since you (hopefully)
are not practiced and adept at angry shouting, your heart will be jack-hammering
and you’ll develop a monster headache — at least that’s what would happen with
me. You will have ruined your own mood for the rest of the day. How effective
are you then going to be with the rest of your clinic schedule?
Finally, the fight is not over! The
patient can (and will) renew the attack at another time.
Another wrong response is to
compromise: “There is no reason to be angry! Calm down and we can work
something out.” This is a mistake! If you compromise, you have established
the precedent that becoming angry is an effective strategy with you. Other
inmates will learn this and you will inevitably have to endure many more
confrontations like this.
Instead, defuse and deflect. One way
would be to say: “I see that you are angry, so we are done for now.
Security will take you back to your dorm. We’ll talk again later after you’ve
calmed down.” It’s important to say this without raising your voice and,
if possible, to betray no emotion on your face or body language. The lack of
any reaction goes a long way to defusing such situations. No compromise, no
bargaining, no reaction.
The next day — or even in an hour
or two — you can call the patient back to medical and confidently expect a
more productive conversation. It is important at this second interaction not to
upbraid or belittle the patient. You should act as if the last incident is
It takes training, practice, and
time to master verbal defense skills. The best way to learn is through
role-playing scenarios. The response to angry outbursts happens to be one of
the easiest Verbal Jiu-Jitsu skills to learn. The principles are: betray no
reaction or emotion, end the session (if the patient will not calm down
immediately), but make sure that such patients know that they are welcome back
as soon as they calm down. Bring them back later and act as if the incident is
Jeffrey E. Keller, MD, FACEP, is a board-certified emergency physician with 25 years of experience before moving full time into his “true calling” of correctional medicine. He now works exclusively in jails and prisons, and blogs about correctional medicine at JailMedicine.com.
Originally published in MedPage Today
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