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April 5, 2018

Adelphi Professor’s Research Identifies Need for Redefining the Role of Nurses in the Opioid Crisis

Researchers have been studying the public health crisis resulting from the misuse of opioids and other drugs for years, covering the topic from seemingly every angle. However, little attention has been paid to the role of nurses, who are serving on the front lines providing immediate treatment to persons experiencing addiction.

Marissa D. Abram ’08, Ph.D. ’17, clinical assistant professor in the Adelphi College of Nursing and Public Health and a psychiatric nurse practitioner, is filling this gap with a study of registered nurses who are working with patients with substance use disorder. She published her findings in the most recent edition of the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing.

One of her findings is that nurses value patient recovery as an important measure of their job satisfaction. Recovery is ultimately out of their hands, though. “It is a complex process that involves multiple patient factors,” she explained, “and is not solely based on nursing care.”

Furthermore, Dr. Abram said, the existing research on nurses who work primarily with patients with substance use disorders is out-of-date. Her research showed that nurses today are uncertain about their role and are seeking a more contemporary nursing identity. They said that their formal education did not fully prepare them to treat these patients, and that they have had to fashion their role through experience in the treatment setting.

Dr. Abram’s study included in-depth interviews with nine nurses who have worked in the field from one to 37 years. She hopes her study will draw attention to the need for a better-defined role for nurses in the substance use disorder specialty—a role, she believes, that would include expanded holistic interventions such as counseling.

“Much like diabetes, substance use disorders may be triggered by a voluntary component. However, for some people who are genetically predisposed to substance use disorders, neurobiological changes occur after drug exposure, altering important parts of the brain. This causes compulsions and cravings which lead to the maladaptive behaviors that are seen in active addiction.”

Dr. Abram said that if more people thought about addiction in this manner, it might help reduce the social stigma of disease and refocus the role of nurses in the substance use disorder specialty as one of helping patients manage a chronic illness.

The results of Dr. Abram’s study will be presented on April 12, 2018, at the Eastern Nursing Research Society’s 30th annual conference, as part of the concurrent scientific sessions on organization and workforce issues.


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