Pacing with Our Patients: Recovery & Opioid Use Disorder

Pacing with Our Patients: Recovery & Opioid Use Disorder

By Sabrina Sherwood, Pharmacy Consultant

I recently ran my first half marathon and have my first full marathon in one month. I wouldn’t call myself a “runner”, but I find myself like a moth drawn to flame of the running community. The grit, the perseverance, the preparation. After finishing a race, I like to sit at the finish line.

It’s easy to get caught up in cheering for the first-place finisher but I find the real awe in seeing how many people cross the finish line with grimacing eyes, subpar posture, and sweat stains that will take weeks to resolve.

These are the runners who run not to get first place, but to accomplish their goal of finishing – and the running community has stepped up to help the majority. How? Race pacers.  A race pacer is a runner that keeps a consistent pace throughout a run. These are usual veteran runners – experts who can easily maintain a run speed for a long duration of time. Often, large groups of runners will find their pacer at the start line and run alongside them for the entirety of the race to ensure they achieve the goal time they seek.

Healthcare teams are in a strategic position to pace with patients in many ways – but particularly as it relates to opioid use. Over 27 million people were reported to be suffering from opioid use disorder in 2016. Of those suffering, few have the resources to seek help, and even less are receiving treatment. Providers (including partners such as behavioral health specialists and pharmacists) are highly skilled members of the healthcare team. Pacers are experts of running, and similarly, our healthcare partners are experts in therapy management.   

Like a marathon, our patients with opioid use disorder are not looking to secure the single first-place title of “best sober person to exist”. They just want to cross the finish line. There are a few ways that we can pace with them:   


Helping our patients develop and adhere to a plan that will maximize potential to reach their goals. Patient with opioid use disorder may have competing psychosocial and health related needs that should be factored in before setting up a “training” plan. Let’s help them see the path of least resistance to their finish line.  

Bring them into the Network   

We do better together. Studies show that running persistence improves in those who have a running social network. Pacers bring encouragement and motivation to runners when they’re tempted to quit. Similarly we can support our patients by providing them with their own healthcare partner “pacer” and other resources.

Match the Cadence    

Let’s pace with our patients to meet them where they are at. As a provider, it is easy to sprint to the finish line and waiting for our patient to catch up. We are tempted to tell the patients exactly what needs to be done for them to improve their health and expect them to adhere to our plan. Our patients aren’t robots – they need water breaks, and they need time to tie their shoes occasionally. Let’s pace by continually assessing their progression and helping them move closer to their goal.   

  • pharmacy
  • opioids
  • opioid use disorder
  • recovery
  • opioid epidemic
  • substance use disorder
  • healthcare
Linda CardwellPacing with Our Patients: Recovery & Opioid Use Disorder
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