Why Nurses Are the Unsung Heroes of Addiction Treatment

Addiction is an issue of epidemic proportions in our world today. And at the forefront of addiction issues today are heroin and other opiate dependencies.

A recent graphic by Beaches Recovery points out the deadly realities of heroin addiction and overdose in the US:

  • There’s been a sixfold increase in heroin overdose deaths in the last 15 years.
  • Heroin overdose deaths in the US currently hover right around 13,000 a year.
  • Women have become three times more likely to die as a result of a heroin overdose just in the last few years, as women try, abuse, and become addicted to heroin more than ever.
  • While the drug affects people of all genders and ethnic backgrounds, middle aged men (25 and 44) are most likely to become addicted to heroin and overdose.
  • Last year, more people died from heroin than any other year.

The CDC also points out the following in a resource titled Heroin Overdose Data:

From 2014 to 2015, heroin overdose death rates increased by 20.6%, with nearly 13,000 people dying in 2015.

It’s clear that the abuse of heroin has hit catastrophic proportions. This means that those involved in rehabilitation, detoxes, and preventative care efforts play an integral role in changing statistics like the ones presented above.

Those who aid in addiction treatment are certainly modern-day heros. The work they do saves countless lives and gets those who are addicted back to a point of stability and health.

Addiction therapists, counselors, doctors, and many others in the healthcare field approach difficult situations centered around heroin addiction on the daily.

But today we are focusing on a specific group of people within the healthcare industry that directly interacts with, supports, and gets addicts back on their feet. Since their crucial role in addiction and overdose treatment is sometimes overlooked, nurses are the unsung heroes of addiction treatment.

There Through Difficult Detoxes

The detox stage for heroin addicts, especially in cases of overdose, is an extremely painful process. This is particularly painful for heroin addicts, but the harsh reality for anyone hooked on opiates is presented when the process of ridding a body of a drug starts.

While nurses' roles may vary when it comes to care for drug users, the jobs they do are without a doubt critical factors when recovering from heroin’s deadly grasp.

Nurses are there through the difficult detoxes. They are there to support addicts through the immense physical pain and mental side effects of recuperating. This requires the utmost level of patience and unconditional care.

And the process of detoxing isn’t usually a quick one. It can takes days or even weeks for side effects of withdrawal to begin to subside. Nurses are there the whole time. They are the ones holding patients' hands and caring directly for those on the road to addiction recovery.

Preventative Care Efforts

There’s no denying it, nurses constantly save lives through preventative care.

They are oftentimes the ones who notice patients' signs of drug abuse and dependency. Think about who typically talks to patients first in hospital settings; nurses are at the forefront.

It’s their job to pick up on these nuances by talking with patients and through screenings and a persistent eye for the details.

In a lot of ways nurses are expected to provide a multitude of services. Branches of nursing are overarching and stretch beyond just medical nursing. There are many psychology elements to addiction recovery so nurses are trained in mental health services as well.

Treatment Over Criminalization

Since taking drugs like heroin are obviously not legal, many addicts face criminal charges when trying to turn their lives around.

Those who are incarcerated certainly still need legitimate health services. So many nurses work in jails and prisons and must balance safety and medicine in countless ways.

Furthermore, nurses and other healthcare professionals are sometimes the people who step into unjust legal situations and push for rehabilitation and alternatives to jail sentences. Addicts are not always criminals. A lot of times incarceration does not address dependency problems long term. Thus, jail time can become part of a vicious circle of addiction.

Nurses in these settings are paving the roads of change.

Substance-Abuse-Specific Nursing

A  specific branch of nursing specific to substance abuse even exists! This niche of nurses works with those suffering from addiction, all day, every day. 

The following excerpt from a Discover Nursing page describes the job characteristics of a substance abuse nurse, perfectly:

"Substance abuse nurses are specialized in pain management, and help regulate treatment for patients addicted to drugs, alcohol, and other substances. Much of their job also involves teaching patients about the dangers of substance abuse and possible treatment options. Since addiction is both a mental and physical disease, these nurses are trained in both general medicine and mental health."

Next time you see one, thank a nurse, for all they do.

9/30/2018 7:00:00 AM
Robert Parmer
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Robert Parmer is a health and fitness enthusiast, a freelance web writer, a student of Boise State University and a chef. Outside of writing and reading adamantly, he enjoys creating and recording music, caring for his pet cat, and commuting by bicycle whenever possible. He considers himself both a health foods and non-s...
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