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Prescribing nurses need to be part of the conversation about potentially addictive drugs

Nurse prescribers have a role to play in speaking with patients about whether an opioid painkiller is working, a conference has heard

Nurse prescribers have a role to play in speaking with patients about whether an opioid painkiller is working, a conference has heard

An addictions conference in Lisbon, Portugal heard how the majority of opioids prescribed for chronic pain have little or no effect and so questions should be asked about the continued use of potentially addictive drugs.

NHS Digital figures show prescriptions for opioids doubled in a decade from 12 million in 2006 to 24 million in 2016.

At the conference, Cathy Stannard, a consultant in pain medicine at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, questioned whether painkillers were being used in an ‘appropriate and effective way’.

She told a session at Lisbon Addictions 2017 how a GP had admitted to a patient that a drug they had prescribed was not working and they needed to ease off it.

Lack of humility

But Dr Stannard claimed that such humility was lacking in the healthcare profession and staff needed to speak to patients about the effectiveness of painkillers where appropriate.

‘Getting prescribing pharmacists and prescribing nurses to stand up and be part of this conversation will be helpful,’ she said.

Dr Stannard also told the conference: ‘Any drug that we use results in a balance of benefits and harms and if it’s not achieving its primary aim, it’s achieving harm only. For every opioid painkiller we prescribe, 90% will get no result – that’s a public health disaster.’

She said a very small number of medicines for persistent pain get a substantial response, but they were as few as one in ten of these prescription drugs.

Nursing role

The conference came as Public Health England last week urged nurses and midwives to play a role in tackling antibiotic resistance. The Keep Antibiotics Working campaign will provide nurses with evidence about antibiotics to use in their conversations with patients.

The Lisbon conference brought together addiction experts from across Europe to present and discuss research and policy. It was run by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction.


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