Opioids Posing Increasingly Dangerous Threats to Emergency Nurses

July 20, 2017 Conference Opioid

Strategies to combat the crisis will be a focus at the Emergency Nurses Association's upcoming national conference

DES PLAINES, Ill. – The opioid epidemic ravaging communities across the United States is posing a new threat to those on the front line who are working to combat it. Increasingly, police officers, paramedics and emergency nurses are treating patients who have overdosed on opioids, and in some cases, those healthcare providers are being exposed to toxic levels of the drugs.

The threat from opioids has become so prevalent that the Emergency Nurses Association is dedicating four sessions at their national conference, Emergency Nursing 2017, in September to help healthcare professionals deal with it.

“We can’t take these drugs off the streets, but what we must do is ensure emergency departments are prepared to deal with the patients who are flooding through the doors in alarming numbers,” said Karen Wiley, MSN, RN, CEN, president of the Emergency Nurses Association. “The sessions at Emergency Nursing 2017 are designed to educate nurses on the latest developments to help battle this growing problem, and teach them how to put protocols in place.”

The epidemic will be addressed in four different sessions at Emergency Nursing 2017:
●    Opioid Addiction and Deaths Spiraling Out of Control
●    ALTO I – Alternatives to Opioids – Intro to ALTO
●    ALTO II – Alternatives to Opioids — ALTO Program Implementation
●    Opioid Crisis and Information System Technology in the Emergency Department

The Opioid Addiction and Deaths Spiraling Out of Control session will educate nurses on the dangers of emerging drugs sold on the street like carfentanil, a synthetic drug often disguised as heroin. “Carfentanil is traditionally used as an elephant tranquilizer, so the amount needed to kill a human is frighteningly small,” said Cathy Fox, RN, CEN, CPEN, FAEN, who will lead the session. “EMS, police and emergency department personnel can easily come in contact with a fatal dose without even knowing it, so it’s imperative that they are able to recognize patients that are on this particular drug and take extreme measures to reduce their risk of exposure.”

Carfentanil can be sold as powder, in pill form or on blotter paper and is five thousand times more potent than heroin. Healthcare workers who come into contact with an overdose victim of carfentanil can become lethally poisoned themselves, merely by touching the patient without the proper protective gear, or even by breathing in trace amounts of the substance. “Our goal is to educate emergency nurses about what’s out there and the risks they could face any time an overdose patient arrives at their facility for care,” said Fox.

The ALTO I – Alternatives to Opioids – Intro to ALTO and ALTO II – Alternatives to Opioids — ALTO Program Implementation sessions will focus on breaking the grip of opioid addiction by cutting down on the number of prescriptions that are written in the first place. The sessions will be led by Dr. Alexis LaPietra, DO, and Kimberly Russo, BSN, RN, CEN, FN-CSA, of St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, NJ.

St. Joseph’s was the first in the nation to implement the Alternatives to Opioids program (ALTO), which focuses on treating patients for pain without exposing them to opioids and the dangers of addiction.

The Opioid Crisis and Information System Technology in the Emergency Department session will highlight technology that can be employed in emergency departments to better identify and track patients who frequently seek opioid prescriptions.

“Unfortunately, some patients are very opportunistic in getting providers to write opioid prescriptions to them,” said Eric Ringle, MS, RN, who will lead the session. “The good news is, there is emerging technology that allows us to track prescriptions much more closely, so it’s less likely that patients can go from one place to the next to get these drugs.”

Electronic Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs allow caregivers to share patient-specific information instantaneously. Whenever a patient is prescribed an opioid, their information is uploaded into a database that allows caregivers to more effectively track where a patient has been treated and how often he or she was prescribed opioids.

“Sharing that information is invaluable in helping to prevent abuse and, in many cases, can help initiate an intervention that could save a patient’s life,” said Ringle.

Emergency Nursing 2017 is September 13 - 16 in St. Louis; emergency nurses can register with just a $100 non-refundable deposit. The extended Early Bird Rate expires on August 1.

The Emergency Nurses Association is the premier professional nursing association dedicated to defining the future of emergency nursing through advocacy, education, research, innovation, and leadership. Founded in 1970, ENA has proven to be an indispensable resource to the global emergency nursing community. With 50,000 members worldwide, ENA advocates for patient safety, develops industry-leading practice standards and guidelines and guides emergency health care public policy. ENA members have expertise in triage, patient care, disaster preparedness, and all aspects of emergency care. Additional information is available at www.ena.org.

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Dan Campana

Director of Communications