Talking to Patients About Opioid Addiction

talking to patients about opioids

The opioid crisis has affected thousands of individuals in the United States. Due to increasing rates of opioid addiction, it is more important than ever before for physicians and other medical professionals to serve as a resource for patients in need of these medications. By providing patients with the proper information and support, you will set them up for a safe and successful treatment. We recommend the following guidelines for talking to patients about opioid addiction.

Frame the Discussions

Many patients are unaware of the risks that opioids pose. It is vital that physicians emphasize the importance of safe usage of these drugs. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says that when speaking with patients about taking prescription opioids, doctors must make them aware of potential interactions with other substances.

Donald E. Stader III, MD, the president-elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Colorado chapter, says to treat patient meetings as a judgment-free zone. Make sure your patients are aware that you are not targeting them or accusing them of abusing opioids. He advises emphasizing patient safety and health during discussions around opioids.

Emphasize Changes in Tolerance

Tolerance can change over time due to a number of factors. Patients who are prescribed opioids to treat pain should be cautioned about these changing tolerance levels. Tolerance can especially be lowered after a period of abstinence. Because of this, Dr. Stader says he is more likely to emphasize the risks of overdose and addiction for patients who have taken opioids in the past.

Discuss Safe Storage and Usage

Opioids can easily be abused, and many people may seek them out in an attempt to abuse their effects. For this reason, safe opioid storage and disposal is important. However, a survey commissioned by Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA) reported that 62% of adults have never been told about safe prescription opioid storage or disposal by their healthcare provider. During your discussion with patients, emphasize the need for responsible storage and disposal. 

Covering Risks and Benefits

While serving as a resource for your patients, education is one of the most important things you can impart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends clinicians and patients consider known risks and benefits of initial and continued opioid therapy. Physicians should also take the time to learn about patient preferences and values in regards to medication.

Show Empathy

Addiction is difficult for any individual to deal with. For doctors speaking with their patients about the risk of opioid addiction, empathy is essential. Consider your tone of voice, posture, facial expressions, and eye contact when you meet with patients. The CDC recommends using emphatic statements when talking to patients about opioid addiction:

“I understand that this isn’t easy.”

“We’re going to work on this together.”

“We will make gradual changes to see what works for you.”

“We don’t need to make abrupt or drastic changes.” 

Slow Down and Evaluate

The CDC recommends taking the time to listen to patients. By slowing down, listening to concerns, answering all questions, and discussing all treatment options, you can help your patients understand the risks associated with opioid use.

Talking to patients about opioid addiction does not have to be complex. Follow the right practices, keep your patients informed, and you will set your patients on the right track.

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