The Gravity of the Opioid Epidemic - Part 2: A Nurse's Perspective


     “Of pain you could wish only one thing—that it should stop.” – George Orwell

    At the root of the opioid epidemic, you can find one thing—pain.  It’s something so simple, yet complex…something raw and quite possibly the worst aspect of life.  Whether it be physical or emotional, enough of it can cause a person to do things they never thought themselves capable of just to make it stop.  It can render a person incapable of functioning properly, and consume their every waking thought.  While the purpose of prescription opioids was to relieve chronic and extreme pain, we’ve seen all too well the devastating damage that’s been created from their abuse over the last two decades.  First comes dependence, then tolerance, and finally—addiction. 

    As mentioned in Part 1, the first step to tackling the opioid epidemic is understanding.  Having compassion for human beings, regardless of their life choices or the mistakes they’ve made, is one of the basics of being a decent person.  We teach our children to follow the golden rule and treat others the way they want to be treated, so why, as adults, should this be any different?  Underneath it all, addicts are human beings who have found themselves on a treacherous path that is extremely hard to navigate, and even harder to escape.  By seeing the epidemic through other people’s eyes, and learning from their experiences, we can gain a greater understanding of the reality of the situation, and come together as a community, a state, and a country to make things better for future generations.

    The pharmacist’s perspective allowed us to see the technical side of the opioid epidemic, and also provide solutions for how we can improve upon past errors in judgement.  It spread the word regarding how we should handle leftover prescription medications in our homes, and offered resources for help.  The perspective of the nurse slowly moves from technical to up close and personal.  This is one nurse’s perspective…

    Out of everyone observing the opioid epidemic firsthand, one could make the argument that nurses and the loved ones of addicts see the rawest and most heartbreaking side of it.  For Courtney Klink, MSN, RN, MBA, she has had both the unfortunate and fortunate honor of playing both roles throughout her life and professional career.  Despite her heartbreaking experiences, she remains strong, capable, and an advocate for both those who suffer, and whose loved ones suffer from addiction.

    From a young age, Courtney has witnessed the devastating effects of addiction in many forms from multiple family members.  “I watched my aunt shoot heroin into her toes because that’s about the only place she had left,” Courtney reflects.  She also grew up witnessing her father’s battle with addiction.  “My father became addicted to crack when I was around 8 years old,” she says. “For years I thought to myself ‘why am I not enough to make him want to stop?’ I didn’t think it was fair that I missed out on a lot of things that I felt a girl should get to do with her father.”

    These experiences alone would be enough to traumatize a child and perhaps even set them on a similar, destructive path.  However, even now as she sees her own relatives’ names in the news for drug-related crimes and arrests,  and despite the chronic pain she herself suffers through, Courtney has lead a clean life.  She has also been able to see past the hurt into what the addiction truly is, albeit devastating.  “I see it as a disease,” she says. “It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I realized that my father’s addiction was not a result of anything I did.”

    She also acknowledges that the root of this drug abuse may stem from something far greater, and not always physical. “Many people who become addicted have severe mental health issues that need to be treated.  You can’t just throw them into rehab or give them medication and expect everything to be okay,” Courtney says.  “There is a huge mental health piece that needs to be take care of, and if that person is not ready to ‘face their demons’ it isn’t going to work.”  Although physical pain is a huge cause of opioid abuse, emotional pain and turmoil can lead to just as much damage.

    When hearing Courtney speak of her experiences, you might expect her to break down or become emotional.  However, she remains very steadfast and matter-of-fact, even with what would seem to be the most painful of memories.  If anything, these experiences have made her stronger, and given her motivation for how she has chosen to live her life.  She does not view her painful past as a weakness, nor does she dwell on it.  “I’m kind of grateful that all of it happened to me,” she reflects. “It definitely made me the person I am and I think also contributed to me wanting to be a nurse.”

    In her time as a nurse, she has continued to observe the opioid epidemic, but at times what troubles her the most is what she sees from her fellow healthcare professionals. “I think that opioid abuse has taken some of the compassion out of nursing,” Courtney says. “Many nurses do not want to give patients pain medications because they feel like they are drug-seeking.”  She even describes seeing other nurses give their patients placebo medication instead of actual medication, due to this bias.  “For some nurses it’s hard to see the patient…all they see is the need or want for pain medication.”

    For this reason, Courtney has spent time educating nursing students and colleagues on the differences between dependence, tolerance, and full-blown addiction, creating presentations and even using her own family members as examples.  She admits that it is difficult to not develop a bias towards patients wanting medication for the littlest of issues, but above all she values the compassion that comes with the title of “nurse.”  With something as sensitive and serious as the opioid epidemic, it can be extremely difficult to know what the best way to handle these situations is.  The important thing is to remain vigilant, see each patient for who they are and what help they need, and never stop educating yourself on these pressing issues.

    Also, it is imperative to remain observant while you’re on the clock of anyone who is handling opioids.  This opioid abuse does not discriminate, and can affect people of any socioeconomic class or job title.  Too often, medical professionals begin their career with the purpose of helping others, only to prematurely end it due to opiate abuse.

    Opioid abuse by healthcare professionals is an extremely serious issue, and cannot be ignored.  If you suspect a coworker is abusing prescription pain medication, there is an anonymous tip line that you can easily text.  To report a tip, text TIP411, or 847-411, and then use the keyword PILLTIP. The message will be forwarded to a DEA agent who will investigate. (Source)

    If you, or someone you know needs help in finding a treatment facility for drug or alcohol addiction, call this helpline for 24/7 access to specialists who are on call to answer your questions and provide nonjudgmental guidance – (888) 610-5623


    To be continued…

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    Author: Michelle Adams


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