The 3rd-annual Opioid Conference, presented by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing, doubled in attendance over the previous year, drawing more than 280 people to the event March 2-3.
Audience members were primarily health care providers, who attended to gain resources to recognize and address opioid use disorder among patients in their health care practices. The pre-conference for prescribing providers covered, “Prescribing laws, harm reduction, and the role of naloxone.”
“Addiction is the No. 1 health problem in the U.S outside COVID,” said Stephen Loyd, MD, the keynote speaker at the conference. He is also the chief medical officer of Cedar Recovery and vice president of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, deaths by drug overdose in Tennessee nearly tripled between 2015 and 2021, increasing from 1,451 to 3,814.
Dr. Loyd urged providers to use caution in prescribing opioids, even when they are needed in pain management. “Write it for three days. The third day is when the dependence process starts,” he said. “When you write that second prescription for the opioid, there is a 65% chance the patient will be on it a year later.” That is why it is so important to bring the patient back in to see how they are doing after the initial few days, he said.
Addiction is built on three factors: Genetics, trauma, and opportunity, he said. A patient with physical or emotional abuse in their background and any family history of addiction should be cautioned by the health care provider about their increased risk of developing substance use disorder, he said. Dr. Loyd also gave examples of how providers can have an effective screening conversation with patients to determine if they have these risk factors.
Dr. Loyd recounted his own recovery from substance use disorder, which started during the high-stress days of his chief residency when he was working 100 hours per week. Before he sought recovery, Dr. Loyd said he was taking 500 milligrams of oxycodone and eight milligrams of Xanax per day. He praised the treatment he received, but said many people do not have the support and resources that he was fortunate to have.
“Why do people relapse? Cravings. That’s why I love medications. Medications (Medication-Assisted Therapy) save lives. They keep people alive long enough to treat the underlying cause of addiction,” he said. “Harm reduction is where we have got to start. I don’t care if you like it or not. I can’t treat dead people.”
Nurse practitioner Robin Black, FNP-BC, PNP-BC, came to the conference from Erin, Tennessee, where she practices. “This gives us resources,” said Black, a UTHSC College of Nursing alumna. “We have a problem with addiction in our community, just like every other community.”
Her daughter Piper Hutchinson, DNP, FNP, works as a nurse practitioner for the Health Department in Cookeville, and attended the conference, as well. “Our health department is getting ready to start providing NARCAN® and fentanyl testing strips to the public,” she said. “This is a good refresher for me. I can go back and be an advocate and make it a positive thing.” Dr. Hutchinson is also a UTHSC College of Nursing alumna.