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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 hospitals too.”
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 real world.”
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