American Psychiatric Nurses Association Introduces New Education to Combat Opioid Epidemic

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The American Psychiatric Nurses Association this week introduced online continuing education to help nurses, the largest segment of the health care workforce, combat the nation’s opioid use and overdose epidemic.

Mary Ann Nihart and Matt Tierney

Mary Ann Nihart, APNA President, and Matt Tierney, Chair of the APNA Addictions Council

Consistently ranked as the nation’s most trusted profession, nurses have frequent and regular contact with patients in numerous settings and at multiple levels of care. This makes them ideally suited to provide opiate interventions.

In response to the need for enhanced education for nurses regarding opioid use disorders and a call from the White House to help address the national opioid use epidemic, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) has developed online education for nurses on effective treatments for opioid use disorders. No cost online modules are available to three audiences: registered nurses, psychiatric-mental health registered nurses, and advanced practice nurses. Each on-demand webinar’s content is targeted to what that particular nursing audience can do within their scope of practice to help stem the opioid use epidemic and expand access to evidence-based treatment.

Nurses compose the largest segment of the health care workforce (1) and have been described as the “backbone” of the Opioid Treatment Program system of care (2). However, many nurses may lack essential education in the risks of opioid addiction (3). Consistently ranked as the nation’s most trusted profession (4), nurses have frequent and regular contact with patients in numerous settings and at multiple levels of care. This makes them ideally suited to provide opiate interventions.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day more Americans die from drug overdoses than from car crashes,” says APNA President Mary Ann Nihart, “and the majority of these overdoses involve legal prescription drugs. APNA applauds the White House for their efforts to address this pressing problem. In our role as the voice of psychiatric-mental health nursing, we have created this education to empower the almost 4 million registered nurses across the country to help expand access to care and ensure that persons affected by this epidemic receive the treatment they need to reach recovery.”

“It has been our honor to share our expertise with the entire nursing profession,” says Matthew Tierney, PMHNP-BC, ANP-BC, Chair of the APNA Addictions Council. “With 15 years working as a nurse in substance use disorders, I have seen firsthand how evidence-based substance use education can empower nurses. Together, all nurses have the potential to make a significant contribution to stemming the current epidemic.”

Each presentation provides an overview of key morbidity and mortality statistics related to heroin and prescription opioid use, practical strategies for nurses to assist persons who have opioid use disorders in selecting and proceeding with evidence-based individualized options for treatment, and opportunities for nurses to increase access to these treatments in their settings and communities. Based on the new chronic care model and presented by psychiatric-mental health nursing experts in the field, the modules emphasize both that addiction is a brain disease and that recovery from opioid use disorder is possible. The programs also seek to dispel common stigmatizing language and attitudes towards persons with substance use disorders.

The educational sessions targeted to psychiatric-mental health nurses and advanced practice nurses also provide an overview of the epidemiology of addiction, how to assess and diagnose a person who may have an opioid use disorder, non-pharmacologic evidence-based psychotherapies, pharmacological treatments including methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, and the use of naloxone in emergency overdose situations. Additionally, the presentation for advanced practice nurses covers considerations for treating special populations with opioid use disorder, including pregnant women, persons with comorbid HIV/AIDS and/or HCV, and persons with co-occurring mental health disorders.

APNA is a provider of continuing nursing education who is accredited with distinction by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation (ANCC). As ANCC accredited continuing nursing education, these webinars provide nurses not only knowledge, tools, and best practices to inform them as they encounter patients with opioid use disorders, they also offer continuing education contact hours which nurses can apply to recertification and licensure renewal.

1.    American Nurses Association (2015). About ANA. Retrieved from
2.    Kub J. Interview with Sara Azimi-Bolourian. J Addict Nurs. 2010;21:49-51.
3.    Costello M, Thompson S. Preventing Opioid Misuse and Potential Abuse: The Nurse’s Role in Patient Education. Pain Manag Nurs. 2015; 16(4): 515-519
4.    Gallup (2014). Honesty/Ethics in Professions. Retrieved from

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