Addressing the opioid epidemic: Strategies to improve education and increase awareness

This country’s opioid epidemic is dire, and growing worse every year. Americans are now more likely to die of an opioid overdose than in a car crash, with an average of 130 Americans dying every day in this manner. Government, academia and community organizations alike are scrambling to stem the tide, working on everything from prevention, to data tracking to public safety and treatment.

Tackling the epidemic on a state-by-state level

The state of Indiana knows the severity of this epidemic all too well; every 2.5 hours, someone in the state is sent to the hospital for an opioid overdose. Two out of three Indiana residents know someone battling addiction. As one of four states where the fatal drug overdose rate more than quadrupled since 1999, Indiana knew it had to step up to combat the epidemic.

In response, Indiana University (IU) established a Grand Challenge initiative in 2017 to address the addictions crisis. It’s the nation’s largest and most comprehensive state-based response of its type. The initiative weaves together efforts and players from academia, government, healthcare, community, nonprofits and more working together to:

  • Reduce the incidence of substance use disorders
  • Decrease opioid deaths
  • Decrease the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

To date, the IU initiative has launched more than 30 research projects that tackle many different angles of the epidemic. In addition, they encourage all community members to:

  • Get trained on naloxone use
  • Get educated about treatment programs
  • Acknowledge that addiction is a disease
  • Support local nonprofits working to support those suffering from addiction
  • Urge lawmakers to stay focused on this crisis

The state’s response to the opioid epidemic shows the power of partnerships, both on a government and community level. But how can organizations engage with the issue on a personal level? That’s where patient education tools like the Opioid Pathways Collection for GetWell Inpatient™ come in.

Using patient education solutions to support recovery

Consider the opioid epidemic from a patient and family perspective. There are a variety of treatments available like NSAIDs, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, surgical procedures and even acupuncture — each of which comes with its own challenges about insurance coverage and proper pain management. Above all else, though, there’s pain for the patient.

Often times, however, we find a communication gap in pain management. Depending on whether or not an opioid is prescribed, there’s a risk of starting someone on the prescription-to-addiction pathway; of spreading opioid risks to family, friends and children due to improper storage or disposal; or even of uncontrolled pain, if opioids are not prescribed. In the latter situation, the patient may feel like their care team doesn’t care and turn to non-prescription methods to control the pain.

It’s a complex issue that must be addressed. To do so, GetWellNetwork worked in concert with adult and children’s client hospitals to develop and design interactive patient education solutions to help interrupt the prescription-addiction pathway and support patients and families who may be struggling with opioid use disorder.

What does this look like on the ground?

By providing evidence-based content on things like opiate storage safety programs and using naloxone to reverse an overdose, GetWellNetwork aims to educate patients where they are, when they need it. The Opioid Pathways Collection reimagines the pain management experience by helping initiate pain management conversations early in the patient’s hospital stay. Patients are even proactively asked about concerns they may have about taking an opioid, or current knowledge of proper disposal methods and risks for overdose.

All of this is in keeping with research that has found that technology-based education interventions are more effective at increasing patients’ knowledge of opioid medications and the overdose risks (Dunn et al, 2017).

Continuing to address the opioid epidemic

Interested in learning more about these topics? GetWellNetwork will host a webinar, “Addressing the opioid epidemic: Strategies to improve education and increase awareness,” on June 6th at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT. Attendees will learn about effective strategies to combat the opioid epidemic implemented in Indiana, as well as varied uses of interactive patient education resources to support and encourage recovery.

In this webinar, I’ll be joined in conversation by renowned expert, Dr. Robin Newhouse, dean of the Indiana University School of Nursing and the principal investigator on the university’s addiction crisis initiative.

Learn more about the webinar or register here.