Email This
Please enter a Recipient Address and/or check the Send me a copy checkbox.
Your email has been sent.
Your Name: 

Copy me on this email ()

Recipient's Email: 
Separate multiple email addresses with commas (Limit is 10).
Optional Message: 

Savvy Solutions for Drug-Seekers

nammi, Nurse, General Practice, 03:51PM May 28, 2013

Diane M. Goodman

As any experienced nurse can confirm, dealing with patients exhibiting DSB (drug-seeking behavior) is particularly challenging. The nurse caring for a patient with this type of behavior typically feels powerless, out of control, and "challenged" by the patient's unique set of complaints and requests.* 

Mention a drug-seeking patient to an ED or bedside nurse, and their stress becomes apparent. The patient's behavior, e.g. asking for specific medications by name, complaining of unrelieved pain, and insisting the physician be contacted repeatedly, typically escalates into an impromptu "war" between patient and caregiver. No one wins this battle, and solace is temporary at best.

Providing the nurse with an arsenal of tools for the drug-seeking patient may be the difference between experiences that become truly distasteful to those that are quasi-manageable (at least until the next visit).

Rule number one is to avoid developing an adversarial relationship in the first place. Validating the patient's pain as being complex and emotionally distressing will assist in keeping the patient at ease, as will having an interdisciplinary approach to their care. Keep the patient busy, especially with tasks that may improve pain awareness. Ask the patient to fill out a pain diary, noting when symptoms become more upsetting. Are the symptoms reflective of anxiety, or pain? Perhaps an anxiolytic is indicated rather than an opioid.

Pastoral Care (or a Patient Representative) can also be utilized in the plan. Ask them to see the patient for a brief visit, to discuss the experience of pain, as well as how pain has affected their quality of life. Support systems can be assessed, including how pain is interpreted by those closest to the patient.

Reinforce safety at every turn. Medications (especially when given parenterally) will NOT be pushed rapidly, but administered safely instead, as recommended by the product manufacturer. I've asked patients if they wanted to read safety information while I was preparing their analgesic (and saline) for injection, so they fully understand WHY medications are given slowly and monitored for effect.

Once patients understand they cannot bully their way into getting what they want, their behavior may change. For this to happen consistently, all team members need to be on the same page. Patients who are truly drug-seeking are masters of manipulation; if they sense a weakness in the system, it can and will be exploited at every turn.

*Stanford University Medical Center ( found two specific behaviors were more predictive of DSB in the ED: reporting >10 out of 10 pain and requesting medications by the parenteral route.


Poll: Let us know how you feel regarding patient DSB at your facility. The problem is minimal, and I feel equipped to deal with the issue.|DSB is on the rise. New ideas and solutions are welcome!|We see DSB, but we have a strong, interdisciplinary group in place.|
About This Blog

Diane M. Goodman, APRN, BC, MSN-C, CCRN, CNRN, is an acute care nurse practitioner who has worked in many different capacities in healthcare. With more than 30 years of experience in critical care and medical/surgical nursing, she has gained an immense amount of insight into the human and patient experience and an unrelenting passion for the practice of nursing. Her sense of humor and ready wit have assisted her in writing about nursing topics in multiple venues. She is currently certified in neurology, gerontology, critical care, and pain management Diane is a full-time nurse educator for Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Illinois and she also works as needed as an acute care nurse practitioner for a busy pulmonology practice.

She lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with her husband and several furry "children" (Chihuahuas), who are gracious enough to allow her the time to reflect and write.

Disclosure: Diane M Goodman, APRN, BC, MSN-C, CCRN, CNRN, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.Poll: Have you encountered a situation where a simple "I'm sorry" or "it's my fault" might have changed the patient/family response? Take our poll! Yes, I should have owned up to my responsibility.|No, I have always been able to defend "my turf" appropriately.|I'm not sure, good thoughts but the outcome would probably be the same.|Other|

  • Medscape Community Manager super duper this

All material on this website is protected by copyright, Copyright © 1994-2014 by WebMD LLC. This website also contains material copyrighted by 3rd parties.